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1.2  Science education and careers

In a knowledge society, democracy requires citizens to have a certain scientific and technical knowledge as part of their basic skills(1). Acquiring this and keeping it up to date has become as essential as mastering the 3Rs. Apart from this general knowledge, Europe needs a pool of scientists to ensure socio-economic development. We are not yet in this situation. It is therefore necessary, firstly, to get young boys and girls more interested in science by giving each pupil the basic knowledge they need to act as responsible citizens in the face of scientific choices and, secondly, to encourage them to embark on a scientific career. Adults who take up and continue learning later in life should also be encouraged to pursue a scientific career.

It is also necessary to ensure that people who have embarked on a scientific career can retain their enthusiasm and motivation and have opportunities for personal development, without having to abandon scientific disciplines for other types of career. Public authorities are not solely responsible in this respect. Tangible results will only come if private actors fully assume their essential role and provide sufficiently attractive prospects and rewards.

Science and European objectives for education and training

There is a natural complementarity between the creation of the European Research Area and the European Higher Education Area. To enhance synergies, the Commission will endeavour to ensure that activities undertaken in the respective frameworks are both coherent and convergent.

In keeping with the mandate from the Lisbon Summit, the Commission, in concert with the Member States, began to define the future objectives of European education systems ("The concrete future objectives of education systems" COM(2001)59 final, 31.01.2001) for the coming years. On this basis, a "Report on the concrete future objectives of education and training systems" (Council report on the concrete future objectives of education and training systems, 5980/01 EDUC) was adopted on 12 February 2001 by the Education Council and endorsed by the Stockholm European Council. The Commission and Council will present a joint report together with a detailed work programme to the Barcelona European Council in 2002.

Priority objective "Mathematics, Sciences and Technologies"

The Working Group on the priority objective "Mathematics, Sciences and Technologies" has begun its work designed to increase recruitment to scientific and technological disciplines. The four key questions addressed are as follows: increasing interest in mathematics, science and technology from an early age; motivating more young people to choose studies and careers in the fields of mathematics, science and technology, in particular research careers and scientific disciplines where there are shortages of qualified personnel, in a short and medium term perspective; improving gender balance among people learning mathematics, science and technology; and securing a sufficient number of qualified teachers in mathematics and scientific and technical subjects.

Applying the open coordination method recommended by the Lisbon European Council, working groups are already active on the three priority objectives aimed at: the development of skills for the knowledge society; access to information and communication technologies for all; and increased recruitment to scientific and technical disciplines (priority objective "mathematics, sciences and technologies"). 

Action 11

Reflections will begin in 2002 on two other objectives closely linked to science and society: promoting active citizenship, equal opportunities and the gender dimension and social cohesion; and strengthening the links between working life, research and society as a whole.

Science and Society in the European Higher Education Area

Higher education establishments, and particularly universities - the natural homes for science, education and transmission of knowledge - have for several years been confronted with profound changes. These changes have involved their opening up to and interaction with society, from the local to the international level. Several recent initiatives at European level have encouraged this phenomenon, which combines a growing transnational dimension (networks, mobility, partnerships) and an intensification of the dialogue between universities and their locally-based societies.

Action 12

The Commission will explore with its partners in academia and the University Council for the Jean Monnet Project (2) the possibility of including the theme "Science, society and European integration" among the subjects covered by the Jean Monnet chairs, alongside more classical disciplines such as law, economics, political science or history.

The Bologna process, launched on 19 June 1999 by the Education Ministers of 29 European countries, sets action priorities with a view to creating a European Higher Education Area. Firstly, the process facilitates the comparability, transparency and comprehensibility of university qualifications and pathways. Secondly, it encourages universities to devote more attention to the new challenges posed by the knowledge society: life-long learning, strengthening of the European and international dimension, quality of teaching and services, and the taking into account of specific local features in the design of study programmes.

In the training of scientists, particular attention must be given to areas that may prove essential in the exercise of their professions. These include project management (particularly on a European scale), law (intellectual property, ethics, etc) and communication (to the general public in particular).

Action 13

The development of European study courses at university level on science, technology and their historical, cultural and economic environments will be promoted through the creation of collaboration networks.

The Community programme SOCRATES - and in particular the Erasmus activity - contributes to the Bologna process through facilitating collaboration between higher educational establishments across Europe, as well as student and teacher exchanges. Erasmus Thematic Networks, in particular, are pan-European partnerships which develop projects and provide for forums where higher education institutions and other relevant bodies (associations (European), professional organisations, NGOs, IGOs, etc) reflect prospectively on issues concerning the study areas they address.

Action 14

The STEDE (Science Teacher Education Development in Europe) Erasmus Thematic Network seeks to take stock of the most relevant and recent findings in science research and educational theories in order to translate them into effective teaching and learning. STEDE will also address aspects related to the assessment of teaching and acquisition of scientific literacy. In addition, it will address the specific needs of science teachers, taking account of the specificities of the disciplines and of the cultural differences in the European Union and in the countries associated to the Socrates Programme.

Development and dissemination of new teaching tools

Teaching methods in general and of scientific subjects in particular have a major impact on the attitude of young people to sciences. The development and testing of education methods designed to stimulate youngsters' interest in science should be promoted at European level, such as the establishment of innovative interdisciplinary projects more attractive to children in primary and secondary schools.

Action 15

The Commission, in cooperation with the Member States, will support education research and development projects specific to science and technology. The dissemination of results will be promoted by exchanges of experience among teachers, conferences and public debates on the teaching of science and technology. Useful information will be made available on Internet sites.

What is Physics on Stage?

Physics on Stage was one of a number of initiatives that were launched under the European Science and Technology Week, 2000. During the course of that year a wide variety of national activities took place to identify outstanding projects and individuals in the field of physics teaching. National Steering Committees were set up in 22 European countries to select the best projects, which were then brought together during a five-day festival held at CERN in Geneva during the Science Week, 6-10 November. In addition to a physics fair, demonstrations and presentations, a number of working groups considered key issues facing physics teaching across Europe today. The project was initiated by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Taking advantage of SOCRATES-related actions and operations

Other initiatives such as the SOCRATES programme (in particular the Minerva action) and media events such as Netd@ys (in 2000, there were about 300 Netd@ys projects, 150 000 organisations participated from85 countries and the Netd@ys European website received over 8m hits) (Internet Week) or eSchola (week focusing on innovative uses of the Internet in schools) can also aid dissemination. Such events will concentrate on developing projects of a high educational quality backed by adequate teaching resources.

One of their key objectives is to understand the possibilities of using the new media (Internet, videoconferences, new audio-visual facilities, etc) as learning and teaching resources.

With a view to developing sound educational resources for science, and to get pupils acting as "young researchers", cross-disciplinary partnerships should be encouraged. These would include education as well as youth and cultural organisations and other organisations in the science arena.

Action 16

In 2002, science education at school will be given particular attention with a view to launching cooperation projects that would bring together research and education actors. Specific efforts should be made to make education or research projects better known through operations such as eSchola, WEEST (Women Education and Employment in Science and Technology), Netd@ys or the Comenius week.

Mobility of researchers and students

The gradual emergence of a mobility culture for European researchers, thanks to the implementation of a "chain of opportunities" ranging from student grants to lifelong financial incentives for researchers, can contribute indirectly to the public perception of science (see in particular the activities proposed by the Communication A mobility strategy for the European Research Area, COM(2001)331 final, 20.06.2001) and help raise the profile of scientific careers in the eyes of the general public. This will be further supported by the promotion of a European Area of Lifelong Learning with its specific action proposals to encourage mobility for citizens to pursue and make use of learning across Europe.

A European network of mobility centres will be set up. Its task will be to provide on-the-spot assistance to researchers and their families, as well as detailed information on programmes, funding and vacancies at European level.

Action 17

The European mobility centres will seek to integrate, as far as possible, information and awareness-raising activities aimed at the general public and at young people in particular.

Information on studies and scientific careers

There is a lack of comparable information on the scientific and technical content of study courses and on the science and technology careers proposed in the countries of the Union. This is detrimental to decision-taking at the Community and national levels in terms of achieving greater integration of education systems, research and innovation in Europe.

Action 18

The Commission will examine together with Member States the best way of launching a comparative European assessment of science and technology studies and careers, and of networking the national institutions that collect the necessary data.

Dissemination of this information should help young people in their choice of studies and careers and may serve as guidance to education policymakers and teaching establishments in adapting their programmes. To support young and adult learners in their learning and career choices, the Commission's Communication on "Making a European Area of Lifelong Learning a Reality" proposes several concrete initiatives. In terms of information, this includes the setting up of a European Internet portal on learning opportunities throughout Europe.

(1) "Basic Skills" is a package of skills and competencies individuals need to flourish in today's society, and which should have been developed by the end of obligatory schooling or training, but can be augmented through lifelong learning. The provision of basic skills for all citizens is identified as a priority area in the Report on the concrete future objectives of education and training systems as well as in the Commission Communication on "Making a European Area of Lifelong Learning a Reality" (COM(2001)678 final).

(2) The University Council is the academic body which assists the Commission with the academic and scientific follow-up of the Jean Monnet projects. The University Council was created by the Commission decision which instituted the Jean Monnet Project. Its current president is Mr José María Gil-Robles.

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