The EU is the world’s biggest ‘brain factory’. It continues to generate more science and technology (S&T) graduates than the United States and Japan, both in absolute and per capita terms. Recent figures reveal that the Union produces over half a million S&T graduates per year, compared with under 350 000 in the USA and some 235 000 in Japan.
Although recent figures show that 71% of 18 year olds in Member States are in education, the number of young Europeans choosing to follow science-related studies has been falling in recent years – just at a time when Europe needs to increase its S&T capacity.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that European universities do not have enough science teaching staff rising through the ranks to replace retiring academics, and fewer S&T graduates make it into the workforce as researchers compared with Europe’s major rivals. In fact the Union employs only five per 1 000 of its workforce as researchers compared with eight in the US and nine in Japan.
These employment trends cannot be allowed to continue if Europe is to safeguard its future prosperity and continue to improve the quality of life of all its citizens.
The first step towards and attracting more young people to S&T careers is to understand what is pushing them away.
According to Eurobarometer polls, the EU’s instrument for the analysis of public opinion, young Europeans have a generally positive perception of science and technology that compares favourably with that of older generations.
The reasons, they say, for the declining interest in scientific studies relate to the way science is taught in schools, the complexity of these subjects, and an apparent shortage of attractive career prospects. The public is concerned, and the majority of Union citizens polled expect the authorities to take measures to address the situation.
The knowledge paradox Modern economies depend more and more on the use of scientific know-how and cutting-edge technologies – and the pace of change is quickening. Driven by concerns that Europe is falling behind, European Union (EU) leaders have committed themselves to making Europe the world’s most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010.
However, at a time when Europe needs more scientists and researchers to spearhead future growth, a growing number of young people are looking elsewhere. “We are currently in a paradoxical situation. While science and technology play key roles in today’s global economy, young people are turning away from science subjects,” observed European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. “We need to understand the origin of these trends and take action to address them.”