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image European Research News Centre > Research and Society >Improving science's image
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image image image Date published : 05/11/2001
  image Improving science's image
 
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  Why are young people shunning science? How can the taste for research be restored? What can be done to stop the brain drain? European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin explains how he sees the situation.
   
     
   

Fewer and fewer young Europeans are choosing to study science subjects. Is the problem the nature of science courses or the way they are taught?

Philippe Busquin: This question must certainly be seen as part of the much wider debate in recent years on relations between science and society. But as far as the specific question of teaching is concerned, I believe the problems lie at three levels: the number of hours devoted to science, the resources allocated, and course content. Most European countries have seen a significant drop in the number of hours devoted to science education. Financial resources have also dropped - and have been doing so since the 1960s. Science courses need such resources, if only to allow as many pupils as possible to take part in practical lessons. This brings us to the question of content. Perhaps as a result of a shortage of funds, the teaching has become too theoretical, too mathematical in a way, and we must now make an effort to include the intuitive dimension. To do this, pupils must be able to spend a lot of time in the laboratory.

Are current or topical events a good starting point for interesting a class in scientific phenomena?

Current events can certainly be an inspiration, providing they are transposed into practice. Global warming, for example, can be approached using the example of a greenhouse. But there are many teaching aids which have shown their worth. It would be interesting in this respect if teachers were better able to communicate and share their successful experiences. One could imagine, for example, a magazine presenting an 'experiment of the month'.

It is also very important to awaken the interest of the youngest pupils, and that must not be left entirely up to the schools. Initiatives such as young scientists clubs provide an excellent means of learning and they, too, would benefit from extra resources.

This lack of interest may also be partly due to the rather low profile of European research. Hubble images are shown all over the world, but how many people know that Europe has the world's best equipped observatory, located in Chile?


Absolutely. There are in fact more scientific journals in Europe than in the United States, but research results often fail to arouse interest outside national borders. If an interesting discovery is made in Sweden there is only a slim chance that other European countries will pick up on it. The experiments being carried out at present - at Liège University - on the synthesis of molecules under conditions of microgravity have received little international attention.

But a lot of European researchers are working in the United States...

In addition to the shortage of people opting for scientific careers, it is true that the brain drain is very worrying. Our aim is to double the number of researchers receiving European grants, which researchers in Central and Eastern Europe can also apply for now. This is crucial to our economic prosperity. Today's scientific research leads to tomorrow's investment and the jobs subsequently generated. This is why we should also reinforce a 'return system' for researchers after a period of study abroad. A three-year grant could, for example, include two years of study in the United States followed by a year of research in Europe. We will only be able to consider that our efforts to promote European research have succeeded when the best scientists decide it is more interesting to continue their research in Europe.

 

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Philippe Busquin: 'Today's scientific research leads to tomorrow's investment and the jobs subsequently generated.'

Philippe Busquin: 'Today's scientific research leads to tomorrow's investment and the jobs subsequently generated.'

 


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