Students who undertake a work placement are more likely to go on to study a STEM course at a Russell Group university

13 June 2019

Work placements offered to Year 12 students are effective in increasing access to university courses in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), according to new Nuffield Foundation report.

It is widely recognised that there is a shortage of skills in STEM subjects in the UK with a recent survey showing that over a third of employers report difficulties recruiting STEM skilled staff.

In addition, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly underrepresented in STEM. To help address these problems the Nuffield Foundation provides post-16 students the opportunity to undertake STEM research placements through the Nuffield Research Placements (NRP) programme. The programme aims to deepen students’ understanding of STEM subjects and research and to encourage them to pursue further studies and careers in STEM by arranging a four to six week STEM research placement for students between Years 12 and 13. 

As an organisation committed to robust research, evaluation and programme design it is important for us to assess the impact of Nuffield Research Placements on student experience and outcomes. In 2016, the Nuffield Foundation commissioned Frontier Economics and CFE Research to evaluate the impact of NRPs on the education and career outcomes of students.

Our report presents initial findings from the evaluation, including: 

  • The placements have a positive impact on participants’ access to STEM Higher Education (HE) courses. Nearly a third (32%) of NRP participants enrolled in a STEM HE course in a Russell Group institution, compared to 25% of comparable pupils with similar demographic background and academic attainment.
  • NRP participants reported that the placement enhanced their study motivation, overall confidence in abilities and specific skills in presenting, writing and time management. These skills are beneficial both for employment within STEM and for their transferability to employment in other areas. 
  • The programme is successfully targeting students from more disadvantaged backgrounds: 22% of pupils offered an NRP between 2014 and 2016 had been eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) in the six years prior to the offer. 

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation said:

“There are many programmes that – like Nuffield Research Placements – are aimed at enriching young people’s education or supporting those that are disadvantaged. However, they are rarely evaluated in this rigorous way. We hope that sharing details of the evaluation and its initial findings will help strengthen approaches to designing and evaluating programmes.”