We are(n’t) scientists

The Commission has put out a survey about young people and science. There’s some pretty encouraging messages about optimism as to how science can improve things, but, particularly for the UK, some pretty scary ones about interest in science. The UK figures show that young Britons are among the least likely in Europe to consider studying science subjects. When asked if they were considering studying science subjects, Britons gave a probable or definite no to natural science (86%), engineering (76%), maths (76%) and social sciences/humanities (66%). This is really worrying for the UK, which considers itself a power-house of European science, a fact borne out by the numbers of European Research Council grant-winners that are based at UK universities, even if they are from elsewhere. But we can’t rely on foreign expertise to drive our innovation. Where are the scientists of the future going to come from? Where are the science teachers of the next generation going to come from? I suppose it’s linked to the story on Today yesterday (see under 7.42) about how children want to “be a celebrity” as a career choice, without necessarily having done something to be famous for. Things like X-Factor are one thing – at least the winners can do something, and if you look at Leona Lewis’ past you can see that she and her family made sacrifices for her to pursue her singing dream. But anyone from Big Brother? People famous because of their parent? Because of who they go out with? Doesn’t seem something to aspire to really.

This was an issue I was looking at a lot when I was in the US earlier this year, and if you’re interested, there are some great examples of good practice on my Eisenhower Fellowship blog.

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