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Studying stem: what are the barriers?

An IET review of the key barriers to students continuing with the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)

The current decline in post-16 uptake of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects is of great concern. A great deal of work has been done on why this is happening, and the IET commissioned this review of studies to identify the most commonly agreed upon 'switch-off factors'. Through this review we can reach conclusions as to why fewer young people are pursuing STEM studies at higher levels and therefore losing the chance to pursue STEM related careers.

The problem is well documented. Three global surveys (ROSE, PISA and TIMSS) indicate that 13-15 year-olds in developed nations display a positive relationship between self-efficacy and achievement in STEM, but do not place a high value on science and technology. In contrast, in developing countries a STEM related career is frequently seen to be the route to improving life for many in their country.

International research therefore shows this is far from a problem exclusive to the UK. Whilst the education system may play a major role, the issues are still being seen in different countries with very different education systems. Identifying the issues that lie outside of the education system is therefore the main focus on this work. This report identifies the following barriers, based on weighted evidence from a literature review of almost 300 reports and refereed journal publications, as the key issues to address.