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Brunel University is building a science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) learning centre at its west London campus to inspire young people to pursue Stem-based subjects.
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The university has partnered Fujitsu, and other organisations, to develop a flexible learning space to teach Stem subjects to pupils from local schools.
The centre will also be used to train some of the university’s students in how to deliver Stem-based lessons to children of various ages.
Part of the centre’s goal is to tackle the skills gaps facing both the teaching and IT industries, and to break down Stem career stereotypes.
“We have much more demand from employers for our students doing Stem subjects than we can supply them with,” said Andrew Ward, Brunel’s director of corporate relations.
“The Stem learning centre is about working with schools in the Thames Valley area and west London.”
Ward said that even after discounting the lack of women and minority groups choosing to continue Stem subjects into higher education, “there just aren’t enough people, purely in commercial terms, going into Stem”.
The UK’s IT industry is currently suffering a skills gap and says it will need one million tech workers by 2020, but employers claim they cannot find people with the skills they need.
The government has tried to address this issue by introducing computing into the national curriculum, making it mandatory for children between the ages of five and 16 to be taught computing.
But teachers have not received proper training to deliver the curriculum, and many are choosing not to go into Stem teaching.
Brunel’s new learning centre ties in with the university’s commitment to increase the number of Stem-based undergraduates by at least 20% over the next five years.
TechUK said earlier this year that collaboration between industry, schools and government will be a more effective method of closing the IT skills gap than several siloed initiatives.
Brunel University has also highlighted the importance of collaboration between schools, universities and industry.
Organisations involved in the Stem learning centre initiative alongside Brunel and Fujistu include Cisco, West London Business, British Airways, Jaguar Land Rover, CBI, TMD Technologies, Heathrow, Brownell, Lucy Electric, Ultra Electronics and Uxbridge College.
A spokesman for TMD Technologies said he felt he spent his “whole life trying to recruit good-quality engineers”, while Brunel’s Ward said part of the problem is that universities often do not know what skills the industry needs graduates to have.
“The last thing we need anywhere is another fragmented initiative,” said Ward. “Unless we start gluing this together, we are just wasting resources.”
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The new learning centre’s project manager, Michelle Evans, pointed out that by working with Brunel to shape the centre’s curriculum, industry partners can ensure pupils are learning the skills that industry needs.
“If we can find a way of tying it to the curriculum and make it useful to schools, let’s put it in,” Evans said. “Partnerships can turn into recruitment pathways.”
The centre will contain several custom-built lab rooms that can be moved and adapted to suit different types of class and lesson, as well as Fujitsu technology classrooms and an immersive lab with a four-metre-high virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) dome.
Schools will be able to bring pupils to the centre to engage in activities as part of a day workshop or a recurring learning process.
Schools will be able to take away Key Stage learning packs to continue the centre’s teaching in their classrooms, and will also be allowed to rent equipment from the centre that may be too expensive for the schools to buy themselves.
“Primary schools do struggle with the Stem subjects because they don’t have the expertise,” Evans added.
The Brunel centre is one of 12 Stem learning facilities that Fujitsu has helped to open and support over the past year, with the aim of helping pupils and teachers to gain Stem-based skills.
Fujitsu has developed a number of Stem-based programmes to be taught in learning centres across the UK, and has placed ambassadors from within the company to act as role models for young children and to ensure teachers know what they should be teaching.
Ash Merchant, head of education, UK & Ireland at Fujitsu, said: “Technology on its own isn’t enough – you need to train the teachers on how to deliver it. We have to give them the tools to support the delivery of great teaching.”