Where are tomorrow’s scientists?
This is an era in which science is needed, arguably more than ever. In the environment, energy and innovation generally, smart investors rely on smart thinkers. The public needs trusty scientists, to pursue knowledge and to arbitrate in debates about the likes of climate change, nuclear energy or nanotechnology.
The trouble is, we may be running short of scientists. In 2005 an article in these pages warned about an impending shortage in nuclear personnel (see Barry Kaufer on www.oecdobserver.org). This message was recently repeated by the OECD NEA (see www.nea.fr). Policy experts are now sounding the alarm in relation to science as a whole, pointing to a shortage that will grow worse unless governments take steps to raise enrolment levels in science and technology education.
It will be a tough challenge. The latest OECD PISA survey of scientific competence among 400,000 students in 57 countries, reports that while young people acknowledge the importance of science, they show little enthusiasm for taking it up as a career. Little wonder there is also widespread pessimism among secondary school students about the future of the environment.
A recent publication from the OECD’s Global Science Forum, Encouraging Student Interest in Science and Technology Studies, reports that the best students are not choosing science because it is not well understood. It says the image of scientists in white coats doesn’t help, either.
But perhaps more importantly in a world of mind-boggling bonuses in financial trading, science is simply not seen as a field for making money in. After all, finance requires smart people too. Pay might not be the only factor, but it will take a genius to reverse the scientist shortage without addressing it. Assuming there are any geniuses left, that is.
See the Global Science Forum at www.oecd.org/futures
©OECD Observer No 263, October 2007
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