Northumbria University project to help tackle engineering skills crisis

Northumbria will help tackle a growing skills crisis facing the North East after receiving £1.2 million grant.

Northumbria University lecturer Dr Neil Beattie with physics student Amber Summerly
Northumbria University lecturer Dr Neil Beattie with physics student Amber Summerly

A pioneering project aim­­­ed at tackling a regionwide skills crisis in engineering has received a £1.2m shot in the arm.

Led by Northumbria University, Think Physics is a project aimed at using physics to encourage young people, particularly women, into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

The three-year project, supported by a number of high-profile partners and North East schools, has been awarded the sum from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Think Physics will seek to add­ress the national shortage of STEM skills in the region and UK by inspiring more young people to take up these subjects at university. There will be two strands to the project: i-Think Physics, aimed at young people from early years to sixth form, and Think Physics 4All, which will focus on teachers, families, and the wider community.

Think Physics has received praise from Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, an engineer herself, who has called for more to be done to inspire girls to get into STEM careers.

She said: “The lack of girls and women studying physics blights both our society and our economy. The Think Physics initiative uses a wide range of local talent and experience to inspire girls with the power of physics and help retain them in STEM careers.”

The project will complement Northumbria’s Physics and Physics With Astrophysics degrees, which are the only physics programmes available in Newcastle. The project’s key partners include the Institute of Physics, Newcastle’s Centre for Life, North Tyneside Learning Trust, and the Kielder Observatory in Northumberland.

Northumbria University’s deputy vice-chancellor Professor Ian Postlethwaite said: “As a cradle-to-career project, Think Physics will inspire and engage young people from early years through to university and beyond, helping to produce the professional graduates and scientists of the future.

“This excellent project will expose young people to Northumbria’s outstanding experience from a young age, helping to drive academic excellence from the earliest stages of the student journey.

“We’re delighted to have secured this grant from the HEFCE Catalyst Fund to support Think Physics over three years. The successful bid is testament to the vision and hard work of all those involved.”

Think Physics will feature a physical hub at the university and a digital presence.

Linda Conlon, chief executive at the Centre for Life, said: “Physics is an important foundation for many careers, particularly in engineering and technology, which are two areas that the North East excels in.

“However, there is a big skills shortage in this field and, disappointingly, there are not many girls taking up the subject. We’re thrilled, therefore, to work with Northumbria University on such an ambitious project to get more girls to think about doing physics at school and university.”

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