This is according to research from multinational engineering firm Aecom.
Design and technology qualifications took the biggest hit, with 17,105 entries in 2012 but only 12,477 in 2016, a fall of 6.76%. Information and communications technology (ICT) has also been hit hard, with 11,088 entries in 2012 and just 8,737 in 2016, a fall of 5.3% per year.
Computing (while still an uncommon choice) has seen the biggest rise of the STEM subjects: taken by 3,809 students in 2012 but 6,242 in 2016, a rise of 15.97% per year. Further maths, a course studied in addition to standard mathematics, has seen a rise of 3.85% yearly since 2012, with 15,257 entries this year compared to 13,223 in 2012.
Richard Robinson, chief executive of civil infrastructure, Europe, Middle East, India and Africa at AECOM, warned that this small rise is not enough to plug the UK’s STEM shortage. According to lobby group EngineeringUK Britain has an annual shortfall of about 55,000 people with engineering skills.
“The mainstream school system provides an essential pipeline of talent for the engineering industry, so this year’s decline in students taking STEM subjects at A Level is worrying,” he said. “The marginal average annual increase in STEM students since 2012 is insufficient to make a dent in the numbers the profession needs. It barely scratches the surface of the UK’s engineering shortfall.
“Part of the problem is stubborn stereotypes about engineering," he added. "More needs to be done on a co-ordinated large scale by a combination of government, industry and education providers to show young people what a career in engineering and other technical disciplines entails. From designing sustainable transport systems and reliable energy infrastructure to protecting people from floods or planning cities of the future, there are a wealth of opportunities available.”
According to Joint Council for Qualifications data for 2016 A Level entries, computing and physics were the two subjects with the lowest proportion of female students (10% and 22% respectively).
Fiona Jackson, head of strategic resourcing at EDF Energy, warned this gender gap further worsens the skills gap.
“Despite a concerted effort across STEM industries to encourage students, and particularly girls, to study these subjects at school, this year’s results show that the gap between the number of girls and boys studying STEM subjects is showing no signs of closing,” she said. “Unless we encourage girls into STEM subjects UK industry will face serious talent shortages in the future."
She added: “We all have a part to play in keeping girls engaged in STEM subjects; showing them the benefits of studying these subjects at school and beyond while demonstrating the exciting and rewarding careers they can ultimately pursue."