It isn't just Americans concerned about science, though Europeans seem a little dramatic about it. Currently, America can only employ 16% of its Ph.D.s in academia, what most academics regard as 'science', so there is a glut of post-docs and not enough grants to give them all jobs, but Europeans have a different sort of problem - young people are not going into science at all.
Business Leaders, European Schoolnet and the European Commission have launched the EUR8.3mn initiative to encourage European teenagers to study science and maths, a much needed skill set if the region's economy is to recover and flourish by 2020 everyone agrees, though science is even more politicized in Europe than it is in the USA. InGenious is a new European coordinating body for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, consisting of the European Commission, 30 Ministries of Education involved in European Schoolnet and major international companies such as Volvo, Shell, Philips, BASF, Nokia, Microsoft and Intel. If that sounds like a lot of bureaucracy, it is, but they are optimistic they can:
- Demonstrate how science and technology skills can help young people get jobs
- Enhance the relevance of school science by showing how cutting edge science and technology contributes to students' lives
- Fight stereotypes by giving a more realistic view of scientific jobs, and encouraging women and minorities to consider scientific careers
Asian countries train twice as many scientists compared to European member states, and three times as many engineers, though obviously they have ten times the population in Asia.
Nevertheless, the new group worries this training gap is threatening the future of Europe's economic recovery due to the lack of qualified scientific and technical human resources, the key drivers of scientific progress and innovation. Although the number of graduates in the fields is now increasing slowly, their academic achievement falls well behind that of their Asian counterparts according to PISA statistics.
Unless this gap is addressed, companies operating in Europe will need to recruit scientific and engineering talent from other regions, or even close facilities in Europe in favor of other regions. This will have a negative impact on salary levels and local economies - high level R&D is typically a well-paid and resource-intensive activity.
Maire Geoghan-Quin, European Commissioner for Science, Research and Innovation, highlighted that sentiment in a recent speech to the Tyndall Institute in Ireland, "We cannot risk our future growth and competitiveness by cutting back now on the investment in education, research and innovation that is necessary for long-term and sustained recovery."
For older, larger Western nations the problem is more pronounced that in eastern ones, where people know science and engineering are key to getting money. Western European students are the least likely to study science, maths and engineering.
An indicator developed by the European Round Table of Industrialists demonstrates that those countries where students are least likely to choose science, maths and engineering are France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK. At the same time, even Europe's highest scientific achievers - Finnish students - are still outperformed by Chinese students in Shanghai and Hong Kong according to OECD figures.
In the recent Eurydice report on science education, Androula Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education and Youth, noted, "Many international reports identify the potential shortage of human resources in key scientific professions and call for modernising science teaching in school. How is it possible to raise the motivation of pupils, to increase their interest in science, and at the same time, to increase attainment levels?"
Key data on European science and technology education:
- The European coordinating body for STEM education can be found in the ERT "Mathematics, science and technology report" http://ert.eu/ERT/Docs/01717.pdf
- Data on national policies, practices and research in STEM education can be found in the new Eurydice report http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice/documents/thematic_reports/...
- PISA 2006 report on science competency and achievement http://www.oecd.org/document/2/0,3343,en_32252351_32236191_39718850_1_1_...