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Inventing the future

News Release by NEF: The Innovation Institute


Disrupt education to match disruptive technology – and create regional polytechnics – says NEF

NEF: The Innovation Institute is calling for:
•New-style polytechnics to act as regional innovation hubs

•Local enterprise partnerships and chambers of commerce to coordinate long term regional STEM education strategy

•Innovation tax credits to be extended to include technical skills development and specialist capital investment in education

•The development of differentiated technology clusters across the UK

•Better exchange of personnel between industry and academia

•A revolution to teaching and learning approaches
NEF: The Innovation Institute is calling for a revolution in education – including the return of the polytechnic - to help the UK keep pace with rapid technological change across all science, technology, engineering and manufacturing (STEM) based sectors.

Inventing the Future: transforming STEM economies, a new think tank report published by NEF today [Wed, 2 July 2014], is based on consultations with more than 100 STEM-based companies and calls for the creation of a more flexible workforce: able to take full advantage of disruptive technology; moving easily between sectors; thinking creatively across different disciplines.

Urgent transformation is required because advances in areas such as nanotechnology, genomics, robotics, cloud computing, biotechnology and 3D printing are dramatically shifting the jobs landscape and changing the skills requirements of most STEM-based sectors. For example:
•Cloud based building information management (BIM) systems are becoming commonplace in engineering and construction projects

•Manufacturers are embracing 3D printing and rapid prototyping

•Specialists are needed to develop apps for the internet of things

•The aerospace, automotive and marine sectors have a growing requirement for technologists that can work with composites

•people with bioinformatics skills are in high demand in the healthcare sector

One common theme in Inventing the Future’s case studies – which range from SME start-ups to multinationals - is the chronic shortage of workers that can combine advanced technical knowledge with project management and business development skills. Organisations report that industry newcomers are ill prepared for the workplace and have to undergo further training in order to gain the required competencies.
NEF is warning that, unless comprehensive restructuring of STEM education takes place, inertia and inaction will stifle innovation and could put jobs and economic growth at risk over the long term.
STEM education in many further and higher education courses is largely based on assessment and qualifications that are decades old, outdated and restrictive. NEF’s three-year review of further education colleges found that STEM provision was inadequate in virtually every case. In the worst examples, 80% of the curriculum was not aligned with the needs of industry.

At a national level, Inventing the Future reports that STEM strategy is patchy and uncoordinated across the regions. Skills forecasting is myopic, with companies and colleges reacting only to immediate or short-term requirements. In a recent NEF survey, only 16 per cent of STEM based companies said that their skills requirements were being fully met.

A template for change

NEF is calling on local enterprise partnerships and chambers of commerce to play an integral role in devising coordinated and long-term regional skills strategies: liaising with industry and academia on technology trends; paving the way for differentiated technology clusters across the UK. Recommendations in Inventing the Future include:

•Setting up new communication channels to allow companies of all sizes – from multi nationals to SME start ups – to have their say on STEM strategy

•An increase of secondment posts – allowing a greater exchange of personnel between industry and academia

•Senior industry figures to sit on governance boards of FE and HE institutions, taking a more active role in education strategy, learning methodology and research priorities

The report calls for the evolution of two types of learning organisation that address STEM education at every level of competency:

•Community education centres whose purpose is to drive social development and inclusion, raising basic skill levels and providing fit-for-purpose courses that enable the learner either to progress to further education or to enter the workforce directly

•Regional polytechnics, acting as innovation hubs, focusing on building growth and productivity within a particular region. The polytechnics, which could be adapted from new universities or FE colleges, will carry out applied research in collaboration with local companies

As well as structural change of the STEM-education ecosystem, NEF is calling for a revolution inside the classroom:

•A curriculum that is not fixed, but evolves to keep pace with changing trends and technology

•Interoperability: students to develop core competencies that enable them to move confidently from one sector to another, with minimum additional training

•STEM courses that are cross-curricular - not separated into narrow academic silos

•Students to take creative ownership of the learning process

•Interactive learning - augmented reality software tools and real life scenarios to be introduced to place the learning into context and to make it more relevant

Inventing the Future’s findings will be presented to leading figures from industry, Government and education at a launch event at 5.30 pm tonight [Wed 2 July], at the Royal Society of Chemistry, London. The event includes a panel discussion chaired by Baroness Hussein-Ece and introduced by Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT Group.
Baroness Verma, the Minister for Energy and Climate Change who chaired the initial Inventing the Future Think-Tank meeting in March this year said:
“Inventing the Future reinforces the need for a collaborative approach between Government, businesses, educational providers and other stakeholders to create innovative partnerships that generate both economic value and social benefit. It invites us all to explore new possibilities in finding optimum alternative solutions to the development of our future scientific and technical education.”

Gavin Patterson, CEO, BT Group commented:
“The world is being transformed by communications. These days, life and work is built around connectivity. Our innovations affect many sectors of business and industry, and impact the lives of millions. Through us individuals connect to friends and family, and have a wealth of information and entertainment at their fingertips. And we help small local businesses through to large multinationals to work smarter and compete in global markets.
We believe that people want to work with a company that supports their ability to grow - whether it’s by making connectivity accessible wherever it’s needed, helping customers become more energy-efficient or looking for new ways to make healthcare and education more effective.
We know that constant innovation takes commitment, cultivation and a diverse mix of talent and capabilities. We also need to foster the right conditions to enable our talent to thrive. The real opportunity for the future is to create new ways of doing things that nobody has even thought of yet”.
Keith Lewis, Managing Director of recruitment specialist Matchtech, sponsor of Inventing the Future added:
“Creating a more industry-ready talent pipeline is fundamental in helping to provide a long-term solution to the STEM skills shortage; in our experience prospective employers have long since requested that students present with an industry-ready skills set that extends beyond traditional disciplines, encompassing the very latest and even pioneering technological advances, and that training should be delivered within a package that develops business acumen and encourages an entrepreneurial fervour.
“This is an exciting time for education providers and industry to collaborate and create a new way in which subjects are taught, delivered and managed, and to future-proof STEM education provision in the UK.”

NEF chief executive and lead author of Inventing the Future, Professor Sa’ad Medhat said:
“Our current STEM education system is holding students back from realising their full potential. We owe it to them, and to future generations, to create a process of learning that can evolve at the same pace as technology.
“It’s time for all stakeholders - Government, industry and academia – to collaborate together on a concerted programme of change. Doing nothing is no longer an option. Action must be taken to transform our STEM economies, both for the good of the students and the long term economic health of UK plc.”
Companies contributing to the report range from start-ups to multinationals including: Rolls-Royce, Jaguar Land Rover, DuPont, BT Group, ABB Robotics, BASF, E.ON UK, EDF Energy, Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group, Worcester Bosch, Costain, Cobham, Atkins, Extrinsica Global, EMC2, Calista Group, PMC Harvesters, Sunseeker International, Hindsight Software, Arla Foods, Holition and Raytheon UK.
Copies of Inventing the Future: transforming STEM economies can be downloaded from the NEF website [from Wed 2 July] at:
To attend the launch, or request an advance copy of Inventing the Future contact Vicki Chen or Mary Proto
Tel: 020 8786 3677
To arrange an interview with Professor Sa’ad Medhat, lead author of Inventing the Future, contact Emma Crates on
DD: 020 7582 7478 or mob: 07843 273103

About Prof Sa’ad Medhat – lead author of Inventing the Future
Prof Sa’ad Medhat founded NEF: The Innovation Institute in 2004, following a string of leading positions in industry and academia. Former roles include Vice President of Future Media Plc, IBM Professor of Concurrent Engineering (Worldwide), Founding Principal and Chief Executive of the University of Dubai and Director of the Engineering and Technology Board.

Prof Medhat is also a governor of Activate Learning (a group of colleges in Oxfordshire and Berkshire) and sits on the boards of a number of international companies. His entrepreneurial leadership has resulted in the creation of several start-ups as well as national and international initiatives in product development, technology transfer and learning and development.

About NEF: The Innovation Institute
NEF is an independent professional body and do-tank that focuses on professionalising innovation to drive growth and performance excellence in business education and government. Ever since it was formed in 2004, NEF has been working hard to create stronger connections between industry and education through support programmes and interventions for individuals and organisations. The Institute has worked with more than 500 companies, supported more than 250 FE colleges with grant awards and developed more than 70 coherent STEM strategies that have impacted positively the lives of over 500,000 students.

NEF’s work is guided by the Innovation Council that brings together over 40 chief officers from business and industry representing all aspects of the UK economy.

NEF: The Innovation Institute
Bective House
10 Bective Place
London SW15 2PZ
Tel: 020 8786 3677

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