University Geoscience UK
The Executive Committee from University Geoscience UK – a national organisation that represents all Earth science departments in the UK – discuss efforts to tackle falling student enrolments to geoscience degrees
To save the planet we need to understand the planet. Geoscientists are critical for our sustainable future on Earth, yet the numbers of students studying Earth sciences has rapidly declined in recent years and we now face the serious prospect of an economically damaging skills shortage.
As the advocacy group for geoscience at UK universities, University Geoscience UK (UGUK) represents geoscience providers in Higher Education. We are the main forum for geoscience departments to communicate with each other, and serve as a platform for collating, sharing and discussing sector-wide issues and solutions relative to Higher Education. We deliver workshops, run webinars for university academics and actively engage with other geoscience bodies across the UK (see section ‘Collaborations’, below). We are spearheading national initiatives to tackle falling student numbers.
The number of students studying geology at UK universities has declined year-on-year since 2014 (student numbers have fallen by 43%). In conjunction with the falling student numbers is the realisation that geoscience, in a university setting, is dominated by white middle-class males with students from diverse backgrounds poorly represented. While students are exposed to some of the core concepts of geoscience during primary and secondary education, these are often covered in the curriculum of other subjects, such as geography and chemistry, meaning that geoscience lacks a clear identity. The number of students studying A-level geology has also dropped dramatically.
To address this UK-wide problem (and indeed one that affects many developed nations), in 2020 we collaborated with the Geological Society on a strategy to enhance student enrolment on geoscience programmes (Report: Enrolment in Crisis, 2020). We identified key themes from this strategy that form the basis for our actions (Fig. 1, above), with a particular focus on activities that raise awareness of the importance of geoscience outside of the geoscience community.
Links with schools
Geoscience appears across the school curriculum but is not necessarily recognised as such and in these cases is often taught by those with little or no experience of the subject. The new “TEACH EARTH” portal on the UGUK website (www.earth-science.org.uk/teach-earth) provides non-geoscience STEM teachers with access to materials to help them deliver the geoscience aspects of their subject during primary and secondary education. Each resource is aligned to a subject and key stage level to facilitate use by teachers. The resources are flagged by a logo that highlights the linkage with, and overlap of Earth science/geoscience/geology.
The TEACH EARTH website serves as a central collection of outreach-related resources developed by universities. We welcome submissions of additional resources through the TEACH EARTH portal.
The background research on the STEM curriculum was undertaken by Maggie Williams (University of Liverpool) and Amanda Owen (University of Glasgow), as well as Emma Wotherspoon and teachers at Gairloch High School in Scotland. Development of the TEACH EARTH portal was spearheaded by Pete Rowley (University of Bristol).
Additional routes for the provision of geoscientific training will support and enhance the pipeline for those entering the industry. UGUK is leading the development of a Degree Apprenticeship in Geoscience, which will offer an alternative route to a traditional degree course to prepare for a career in the geoscience sector. The Degree Apprenticeship in Geoscience has now been approved by the Institute of Further and Technical Education and final sign-off by the Department for Education is expected before the end of 2023.
UGUK leads: Nick Koor (University of Portsmouth), Sian Davies-Vollum (University of Northampton).
Raising governmental awareness of geoscience and its role in our sustainable future is critical for the future of geoscience education. UGUK contributed to the paper, A Talent Pipeline for Critical Minerals, prepared by the Critical Minerals Association for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). This document was instrumental in the development of the UK Critical Mineral Strategy launched by the UK government in 2022. We have also contributed to and commented on the recent report from the Subsurface Taskforce, Geoscience Skills in Crisis. The Subsurface Taskforce sits under the umbrella of the North Sea Transition Forum, which provides senior government and industry leadership for the offshore oil and gas industry, with access at BEIS and ministerial level.
UGUK leads: Nick Koor (University of Portsmouth), David Healy (University of Aberdeen).
Diversity and accessibility
Geoscience lacks diversity and has a reputation for being inaccessible to marginalised groups and those with diverse needs. UGUK has developed and is running a series of Equality Diversity Inclusion (EDI)-focused webinars to help schools and departments tackle subjects such as inclusive fieldwork, racism in geoscience and decolonising the curriculum.
UGUK lead: Rebecca Williams (University of Hull).
We aim to take forward various new initiatives including reports that document the research impact of geoscience in the last Research Excellence Framework as well as the economic impact of the geoscience sector. These documents will form the basis of our efforts to lobby the UK government on the importance of geoscience to UK Public Limited Companies (PLCs) and the study of geoscience at university.
UGUK has representation on several Geological Society of London (GSL) committees including the Joint Higher Education Committee, Professional and Chartership Committee, Degree Accreditation Committee, and the External Relations Committee. We are also a co-opted member of the Ground Forum (the ‘umbrella’ body for the ground engineering sector; www.ground-forum.org.uk), and actively engage with other geoscience bodies including the British Geological Society (www.bgs.ac.uk), Earth Science Teachers Association (www.earth-science-teachers.uk), and Critical Minerals Association (www.criticalmineral.org).
Get in touch
Communication is a two-way street. If you have any issues you feel could be taken up by UGUK then we would be pleased to hear from you. Contact us via email (email@example.com) or on social media (via X, YouTube and LinkedIn).
UGUK membership is available to all universities who deliver some aspect of geoscience as part of their curriculum and costs only £150 per annum. We are run by an Executive Committee, a voluntary group of geoscience academics from universities across the UK. We welcome enquiries from those who are interested in becoming members of UGUK and individuals who might be interested in joining the Executive Committee.
The UGUK Executive Committee
- BEIS (2022) UK Critical Minerals Strategy. UK Government Policy Paper; gov.uk/government/publications/uk-critical-mineral-strategy
- Critical Minerals Association (2022) A talent pipeline for Critical Minerals; criticalmineral.org
- Degree Apprenticeship in Geoscience; instituteforapprenticeships.org/apprenticeship-standards/geoscientist-integrated-degree
- Subsurface Task Force (2023) Geoscience Skills in Crisis: Energy Sector Perceptions and Energy Transition Implications; https://subsurfacetaskforce.org.uk/resources-1
- University Geoscience UK & The Geological Society (2020) Enrolment in crisis: A UK-wide strategy for exciting, engaging and retaining students in the geosciences; geolsoc.org.uk/UniversityGeoscienceUKResources