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Launch of STEM Report

15 March 2017

Members of the St Mary’s University College Science Department recently attended an event at the Innovation Centre, part of Catalyst Inc., in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, hosted by the Institute of Physics (IOP). The event marked the launch of the IOP’s first UK regional report assessing the impact of physics-based and STEM-based industries upon enhancing productivity, boosting economic growth and increasing prosperity. Further regional reports are due to be released during March 2017 in England, Wales and Scotland. The launch marked the first day of Northern Ireland Science Week.

Members of the Science Department (Dr Katrina Mulholland, Dr Catherine Quinn and Dr John Prenter)

Professor Paul Hardaker (IOP’s chief executive) and Professor David Riley (of Queen’s University Belfast, co-chair of IOP Ireland) discussed the findings of the report entitled The Role of Physics in Supporting Economic Growth and National Productivity in Northern Ireland. The report highlighted that 59,000 people or 7.4% of the Northern Ireland workforce are currently within physics-based or STEM-based industries. The number of employees rises to 162,000 when counting individuals in employment indirectly linked to these industries. This combined workforce created an overall turnover of £19.7 billion for the NI economy in 2013-14.

Prof. Paul Hardaker delivering report

Professor Hardaker stated that NI regional growth is the fruition of long-term support for the development of research and skills related to physics education, and if the NI economy is to maintain a high-tech future, then support for STEM-based subject study at both school and at university must be expanded.

The impact of science education on the future of NI STEM-based careers, at both primary and post-primary levels, was addressed as a matter of urgency. The IOP called on the new Stormont Executive to review the primary curriculum and to “explore ways to reintroduce a separate science subject into primary schools”. They also suggested that the Executive should appoint a STEM adviser and undertake a review to identify and to tackle barriers to pursuing physics and other STEM subjects at A-Level, particularly in the secondary sector. The report stressed the fact that only 14% of registered teachers in NI have either a maths or a science degree, and most of these teach in the grammar schools across Northern Ireland. The IOP called on the Executive to invest in opportunities to increase the supply of STEM-trained teachers including offering new funding to train and attract them.

After the launch Dr Sheila Gilheaney (IOP’s Ireland policy adviser) and the St Mary’s science team discussed the uniqueness of the primary science courses, and the post-primary maths and science courses, available at St Mary’s University College compared to other ITE science courses across the UK and Ireland. IOP representatives commended the post-primary maths/science pathway in particular because of its preparation of graduate teachers of mathematics and sciences specifically for non-selective secondary schools. This is a sector where there is currently a low uptake of STEM subjects in the post-16 age group, an area of concern in the IOP report.

Prof. David Riley (Queen’s University Belfast and Co-Chair of IOP Ireland), Norman Apsley (Chief Executive Officer of the Innovation Centre at Catalyst Inc., Belfast) and Prof. Paul Hardaker (Chief Executive of IOP)

(Photos courtesy of Brian Morrison Photography)

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