Do PISA rankings matter for UK employers?

(c) BBC News

The recent PISA tests for global education show that the UK is lagging significantly behind 25 other nations in the subjects that our Government is saying are vital to our future domestic business success. Is this something that companies reliant on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) graduates should be concerned about or is there cause to be a little more optimistic than the media headlines suggest?

The PISA league tables suggest that the UK is stagnating even though there has been a political focus on STEM subjects and investment over recent years.  However, other countries, seeing them as essential to their future industry growth, have placed greater investment on developing these skills.   The OECD research illustrates that the ongoing push in East Asian countries – Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, parts of China – has driven their children into 12-15 hour schooling days to achieve significantly better than Western countries.  However, there is also lower happiness (and even increased suicide rates) amongst the young.

The PISA league rankings matter as they are an important indicator of the likely skills that businesses will have from future Generation Z employees. They are likely to influence the decisions of global businesses about where to base their profitable high tech R&D centres.

The UK PISA ranking suggest a genuine cause for concern around the skills of UK students. However, when focusing on proportions of students with skills rather than mean average scores, the detailed UK report points out that a larger proportion of UK 15 year olds are performing at a higher level than OECD average. The Guardian recently reported that supply of STEM graduates is significantly higher than job market demand. So its not about the science abilities of the general population but perhaps the quality of the graduates from UK universities that is a more important indicator for businesses to consider.  The QS World University Rankings combines research citations with academic and employer opinions worldwide to rank University Faculties. In Engineering and Technology, the UK has three of the top ten

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  2. Stanford University
  3. University of Cambridge
  4. University of California, Berkeley
  5. ETH Zurich
  6. Imperial College London
  7. National University of Singapore (NUS)
  8. Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)
  9. University of Oxford
  10. California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

What is essential for employers of STEM graduates is that they are engaging with students at these universities to encourage them into STEM careers. The Guardian proposed the need to increase pay and improve assessment processes for these candidates to compete with Financial Services and Management Consulting employers.

Talent Glue is currently investing in a research programme to understand more about what these employers can do to engage with and attract these younger workers.