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Posted: December 3, 2008
Bring young people back to science
(Nanowerk News) Young Europeans are shunning science degrees in greater numbers than ever before. If this trend continues, the EU will start to lag behind China and India in scientific research and development, threatening European competitiveness and prosperity. A workshop held in Maastricht, the Netherlands earlier this year looked at ways of improving the appeal of a scientific career and what the scientific professions must do to attract and retain top quality staff.
If Europe is to stay at the top in science research and development, it must keep producing a healthy stream of science and engineering graduates. Unfortunately, this is not happening and the flow of graduates in engineering and the hard sciences such as physics and chemistry continues to dwindle.
At the same time that demand for science degrees is declining in the EU, the opposite is happening in China and India. China is producing 300,000 graduates in the sciences every year - three times the number that EU universities are producing. And India is having similar success: 450,000 engineering graduates every year are filing out of Indian universities.
There is a pressing need now in the EU to attract students back to the sciences. EU companies are even starting to recruit science graduates from China and India to replace the shortfall.
The move away from the sciences is a general trend that is not only happening among undergraduates, but also among young researchers. There is a need to understand globally what is happening in the science and engineering labour force, and the European Science Foundation (ESF) took action by organising a workshop in May this year, entitled 'The Labour Market for Scientists and Engineers'.
The aim of the workshop was to define how the science and engineering labour market has changed and the impact this has had on recruitment and work satisfaction. The workshop's organiser, Andries de Grip, said: 'We focused on both the theoretical and empirical research covering various aspects of the labour markets for scientists and engineers. In order to include several perspectives on the science and engineering labour market, we brought together scholars of different disciplines such as labour economics, the economics of innovation, industrial organisation and management sciences.'
The workshop was split into five sessions. The first included an address by Professor Richard Freeman, a top economist from Harvard University in the US, on the globalisation of the labour market. Professor Freeman said that policy makers do not seem to be aware of the fact that scientists and engineers are the key actors in innovation and are, therefore, crucial for the future competitiveness of developed countries.
Other sessions looked at many aspects of the science and engineering labour fields, including case studies, comparative studies of the internal labour markets in France and the UK, policy issues, discussion on the factors that determine the migration of science and engineering graduates in the EU, discussion of key factors affecting scientific performance and the question of the 'brain drain from universities to the profit sector'.
The workshop ended with a series of discussions on follow-ups and future cooperation. A proposal was also made for an ESF Research Networking Programme on the subject.
Papers presented in the workshop will be published in a special issue of the journal Economics of Innovation and New Technology.