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Science and technology set to be seriously under-represented in the next parliament: only 9% of GE17 contenders have a STEM degree

As few as nine per cent of the main contenders(1) standing in GE17 have STEM backgrounds (in science, technology, engineering and mathematics), analysis from innovation foundation Nesta has found. This compares with more than 40 per cent of students graduating from UK universities(2).

The global tide of complex technological change - from AI, automation, encryption and cyber security to climate change, antibiotic resistance and genome editing - means that the next parliament will have to deal with many issues requiring an understanding of science and technology. Today, 30 per cent of election candidates have a social sciences or law background (including history and PPE degrees).

The poor representation of STEM-degrees among UK politicians is mirrored in countries like the Netherlands (under 10 per cent) and Canada (8 per cent). Yet, when it comes to the European Parliament, 20 per cent of MEPs have a background in STEM, 17 per cent come from a science occupation and 22 per cent have a PhD (3). 

Harry Armstrong, Head of Futures at Nesta said, “Successive British governments have recognised that growing STEM skills would enhance growth and productivity. Indeed, over 40 per cent of recent graduates have STEM degrees. But today’s figures show how under-represented these skills are among the people likely to shape policy and regulation in fields like cyber security, AI and automation in the future. We need a parliament with better grounding in science and technology to help counter the pressure to disregard facts and expertise, and to better design policies that can cope with new challenges.”

In the last year, out of an estimated 1,500 parliamentary debates, STEM-related issues were little represented - encryption featured in just five debates, cyber security in 26, and the gene-editing technology CRISPR was not mentioned at all. Automation had just 31 mentions(4).

Previous Nesta research has highlighted the changing skills requirements of the UK economy, including the demand for data and digital skills(5). The Government’s research shows that science and innovation in the UK is let down by gaps in its talent base(6). Policymakers will need to anticipate the future skills needs of the STEM sector to ensure the UK can compete internationally. 

This analysis relies on publicly available, online information. 

For more, including the open data research set, visit: www.nesta.org.uk 


For more information contact Juliet Grant in Nesta’s press office on 078 6694 9047 / 020 7438 2543 or [email protected]


  1. Methodology: Analysis is based on candidates whose parties won at least 8 per cent of the vote in a respective constituency in 2015 and had at least one Parliamentary seat at the dissolution of Parliament on 3rd May 2017.  PPCs lists sourced from Labour, Conservative, LibDems, Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein, Democratic Unionist, Ulster Unionist and Social Democratic and Labour party websites and verified using lists compiled by several media outlets. Collected full name, gender, ethnicity, constituency, date of birth, place of birth, whether or not they are a sitting MP and if so since when, secondary school, undergraduate university and degree, post-graduate university and degree, current or last job before joining parliament and whether a candidate previously worked in politics. This data will be made available as an open data set. Used the official HESA definition of a STEM degree. Data collected on each candidate used information from respective party's websites, Wikipedia, Linkedin and local news articles and this data might not always be accurate. For many candidates there is little public information available. The research identified a lack of complete data available on around 30 per cent of candidates, with a number appearing not to have any online presence at all. 
  2. HESA: HE qualifications obtained by subject area and level of qualification obtained 2015/16: Higher education student enrolments and qualifications obtained at higher education providers in the United Kingdom 2015/16 
  3. European Parliament: Who are the MEPs? A Statistical Analysis of the Backgrounds of Members of European Parliament (2004-2014) and of their Transformations
  4. A search of parliamentary debates (using the Dods Parliamentary Monitoring service) in the last year (1 May 2016 - 1 May 2017) found approximate mentions of the following topics: STEM was raised in 37 different debates and 39 written/oral questions tabled; Cyber Security was raised in 26 different debates and 66 written/oral questions tabled; automation was raised in 31 different debates and 1 written question tabled since; climate change was raised in 161 different debates and 610 written/oral questions tabled; encryption was raised in in 5 different debates and 8 written questions tabled; CRISPR (genome editing) had no mentions.
  5. Nesta, 2015: Analytic Britain: Securing the right skills for the data-driven economy 
  6. In its 2014 international benchmarking study, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) found that the UK’s science and innovation system is let down by gaps in its talent base. As well as low basic skills (numeracy, literacy, ICT), the report highlighted a problem of insufficient STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) talent to exploit potential innovations. 

About Nesta:  Nesta is a global innovation foundation. We back new ideas to tackle the big challenges of our time, making use of our knowledge, networks, funding and skills. We work in partnership with others, including governments, businesses and charities. We are a UK charity that works all over the world, supported by a financial endowment. Find out more about Nesta.  

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