Are investment banks really draining STEM graduates from other sectors?

Some STEM graduates building a robot. Cool. Image: Getty.

One common answer to why Britain apparently lacks engineers is that graduates who study science, engineering or maths degrees are being lured away by the big bucks of the City. But as the data from our recent report The Great British Brain Drain shows, this is nowhere near as big a problem as some have suggested.

Looking at where STEM  (science, technology, engineering and maths) graduates were working six months later shows that some did go to finance and consulting in 2013-14 and 2014-15. But this figure was low – just 7 percent followed the money to higher paid jobs in these sectors.

They were also less likely than average to be working in London, where finance wages were the highest. Whereas 24 per cent of all graduates were working in the capital six months after graduation, 21 per cent of STEM graduates were doing the same.

So where do STEM graduates go? Manufacturing was the most popular (13 per cent found a job in this sector), while education was a close second (12 per cent). This was followed by computer programming, consultancy and related activities (8 per cent), health (7 per cent) and architectural and engineering activities (6 per cent).


Of these top five industries, the publicly-funded sectors of health and education – which employ close to one-fifth of new STEM grads – stand out as not being directly relevant to STEM subjects. It is therefore these sectors which provide the biggest competition for STEM graduates, not finance or consultancy – with education recruiting double the number of STEM graduates that finance and consulting did.

Of course, we should not be discouraging STEM graduates to go into teaching – it makes sense to have maths and science graduates teaching these subjects. But in the same vein, having maths graduates applying their quantitative skills in finance also makes sense, given the skills that this sector requires and the role that it plays in the national economy.

As such, if the short supply of graduates with STEM degrees is a problem for employers, then it is likely to be down to the lack of graduates overall, rather than a result of competition from non-STEM sectors. And it is on this issue that policymakers should look to intervene.

You can see more of our analysis on the new graduate labour market in the Great British Brain Drain.

 
 
 
 

The smartphone app placing virtual statues of women on the map

A virtual Edith Wharton in Central Park, New York City. Image: The Whole Story Project.

If you’re a woman, then in order for you to be immortalised in stone, bronze or whatever once you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, you should either have royal blood or be willing to be sculpted naked. That is the rule of thumb.

A statue that actually celebrates a woman’s achievements is a rare sight. Writing in the New Statesman last year, equality campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez found that out of 925 statues in Britain, as listed by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, only 158 are of solo women. Of these, 46 are of royalty, including 29 of Queen Victoria. Fourteen depict the Virgin Mary.

There are signs of change, albeit slow. The suffragist Millicent Fawcett is set to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square, where currently all 11 of the statues are of men. (They include Nelson Mandela and a nine-foot Gandhi.) The monument is to be unveiled next year to celebrate the centenary of British women receiving the right to vote.

Elsewhere, the late comedian Victoria Wood is being honoured with a statue that’ll be erected in Bury, Greater Manchester. In the Moss Side area of the city, a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst will be unveiled in 2019. Unlike the Fawcett one, neither of these is expected to receive public money, relying on crowdfunding and other sources instead.

So how many more statues of women, regardless of how they’re funded, would we need to build in order to reduce the gender gap? Well, according to Jonathan Jones, art critic at the Guardian, the magic number is: zero.

Jones’s argument, back in March, was that building statues doesn’t advance feminism, but simply traps us in the past. He wrote:

Statues don’t hold public memory. They politely bury it. These well-meaning images melt into the background scenery of our lives.

Whether this is empirically true is questionable, but it’s true that we tend not to erect them as often as we used to anyway. This is partly because there is less space available for such monuments – a noticeable disadvantage cities of the present have compared to those of the past. In order to reduce the imbalance, statues of men would probably have to be removed; many would no doubt be okay with that, but it would mean erasing history.

One partial answer to the problem is augmented reality. It can’t close the gender gap, but it could shine a spotlight on it.

To that end, an advertising agency in New York launched an app at the beginning of May. The Whole Story allows users to place virtual statues of women on a map; other uses can then view and find out more about the individuals depicted at their real-world locations, using their smartphone cameras.


Currently, users have to upload their own virtual statues using 3D-modelling software. But going forward, the project aims for an open collaboration between designers, developers and organisations, which it hopes will lead to more people getting involved.

Contributions submitted so far include a few dozen in New York, several in Washington and one of Jane Austen in Hyde Park. There are others in Italy and the Czech Republic.

Okay, it’s an app created by a marketing firm, but there are legitimate arguments for it. First, the agency’s chief creative office has herself said that it’s important to address the gender imbalance in a visual way in order to inspire current and future generations: you can’t be what you can’t see, as the saying going.

Second, if the physical presence of statues really is diminishing and they don’t hold public memory, as Jones argues, then smartphones could bridge the gap. We live our lives through our devices, capturing, snapping and storing moments, only to forget about them but then return to and share them at a later date. These memories may melt away, but they’ll always be there, backed up to the cloud even. If smartphones can be used to capture and share the message that a gender imbalance exists then that’s arguably a positive thing.  

Third, with the success of Pokemon Go, augmented reality has shown that it can encourage us to explore public spaces and heighten our appreciation for architectural landmarks. It can also prove useful as a tool for learning about historical monuments.

Of course no app will replace statues altogether. But at the very least it could highlight the fact that women’s achievements are more than just sitting on a throne or giving birth to the son of God.

Rich McEachran tweets as @richmceachran.

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