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New HE Workforce report highlights IT and STEM concerns

The new Higher Education Workforce Survey 2017 is an in-depth report providing detailed analysis of workforce trends and identifying some of the challenges facing the sector. This comprehensive workforce survey, published today by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), shows while the UK HE sector still benefits from relatively few recruitment and retention difficulties, there are growing concerns relating to IT roles and in STEM subjects in the professional services and academic groups respectively.

Whilst there is not any clear and immediate ‘Brexit effect’ in the recruitment and retention data at sector level, HE institutions are reporting significant impact where they have been affected through the loss of, or failure to recruit, senior academic staff. Furthermore, the tight domestic labour market is causing added and immediate recruitment and retention problems in important professional services functions, with IT and estates management the biggest concerns.

In relation to Brexit concerns at academic level, the report notes potential risks around the STEM pipeline with international students comprising 53% of full-time PhD students in STEM subjects and 72.5% of taught postgraduates. The UK HE sector relies heavily on access to a global talent pool of expertise in a range of subjects with academic staff from 199 countries comprising 31% of the 200,000 strong academic workforce. Staff from ‘other EU countries’ make up 17% of the total with higher percentages seen in STEM subjects, as well as in modern languages and economics. 

While the potential impact of Brexit on the sector is evident in this report, the domestic labour market problems in important professional services functions such as IT and estates management continue to intensify. With high risks to IT network security exposed by the recent large scale cyberattacks on NHS trusts and shifts towards active blended learning for students, the sector needs to be able to compete for world class IT talent. Likewise, the upkeep and renewal of the 14,270,00m2 HE estate requires a wide range of highly skilled occupations which are in demand across the UK. The report highlights the need for active recruitment, better employer brand and flexibility in the reward package as parts of the solution. 

Helen Fairfoul, Chief Executive of UCEA, said:

“The report paints a positive picture of the HE labour market overall whilst emphasising the importance of our sector’s global talent and the risks that HE institutions could face from any settlement that further restricts access to international expertise. We are pleased that, overall, the report finds that our workforce has only limited recruitment problems and turnover levels that are well below the average for similar organisations in the UK. However, it is clear that recruitment hotspots such as IT are becoming ever more challenging in a tightening labour market.” 


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Notes to Editors

The Higher Education Workforce Survey 2017 is the seventh report on recruitment, retention and wider workforce data in the sector carried out by UCEA in conjunction HEFCE. 

The UK-wide report is based on in-depth survey responses from 71 HE institutions, interviews with 10 sector HR leaders and an analysis of the 2015-16 Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) national data.

Staff turnover and recruitment and retention measures are important indicators of the state of the HE workforce and the sector’s attractiveness in the many job markets in which it operates. The survey, examining data drawn from 2015-16 across 71 HE institutions, also demonstrates how they have been active in a range of ways to improve the management of their workforces and deliver efficiencies within a challenging funding environment. The survey defines recruitment ‘difficulty’ as having to re-advertise for a vacancy or positions that are left unfilled for six months or longer.

The full Higher Education Workforce Survey 2017 report is now available