Page last updated at 18:43 GMT, Friday, 14 November 2008

Young Britons 'shy from science'

52 % across Europe said they were not interested in studying science or medicine
In Britain over 70% said they were not interested in studying science

A new survey conducted across Europe suggests that young Britons are amongst the least interested in pursuing careers in science.

Yet they were amongst the most hopeful on what science might deliver.

Many expect improvements in areas such as food and water quality, and communications technologies.

Nearly 25,000 15-to-25-year-olds were interviewed for the Eurobarometer survey comparing views across all 27 EU member states.

Careers in science

The survey, conducted for the European Commission, found that in general most young Europeans were broadly positive about science and technology.

One-third of respondents agreed strongly that science brings more benefits than harm.

Half of Irish respondents and 43% from the UK said they lacked the skills to pursue a career in science. This compares with only a tenth of respondents from Bulgaria or Slovenia.

Diana Garnham, Chief executive of Britain's Science Council, welcomed the report and said it indicated to her that scientific organisations needed to do more to make science accessible.

"In the European survey, the UK has some of the lowest figures for making a positive choice to study science and some of the highest figures (71%) for not being interested in a science profession.

"While the survey is disappointing, it says loud and clear that we can do more in the science community to understand what excites and enthuses young people and will switch them on to a science future."

Gender imbalance

The survey also suggested there was a gender divide: young men were far more interested in new inventions and technology, while young women were attracted to subjects such as the Earth, the environment and the human body.

The scientific community may have to do more to attract young people
The EC wants closer links between scientific research and education

Overall, men had a more positive view about science and technology; four out of 10 agreed strongly that science makes lives healthier and easier, compared with three out of 10 women.

The EU Commissioner for science and research, Janez Potocnik, said the survey indicated there was huge interest and support for science amongst young people across Europe but said some areas needed to be addressed.

"The low interest in engineering and scientific studies is a major concern, as well as the gender imbalance. We must reverse this trend because talented and educated brains are EU major assets in the current global competition," he added.

The European Commission is now proposing to organise an event called European Capital of Science which would be held annually and rotate through every European Union country.

The concept would try to engender interest in science and technology by making links between science education and recent scientific work.

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