Commissioner Busquin gives European science a boost.
y 2002, there will be 1.6 million vacancies in the Information and Communication Technologies sector in Europe. Other technology sectors will be similarly affected and there is already a severe shortage of science graduates.
Against this background, last November's European Science and Technology Week saw many events aimed at improving public understanding of the complexities and benefits of science. The week's activities formed part of a broader EU initiative to encourage young people to develop an interest in science. As Philippe Busquin, European Commissioner for Research, commented: "The decline of interest among young people for science studies and careers, combined with current demographic trends in Europe, presents a major threat to our future socio-economic development."
What a week
"One of our roles is to present the public with a well-balanced view of scientific facts," says Stephen Parker of the Commission's Human Potential Programme. "Science is a collaborative venture and is one of the few cultural activities that does not have national boundaries. The Science Week gives us an opportunity to demonstrate the value of scientific collaboration at European level".
Among the highlights of the week was the Physics on Stage show at CERN, in Geneva, which brought together 400 physics teachers from 22 countries. In the face of dramatic staff shortages, the aim was to show how physics could be taught in a more interactive and stimulating way. Radioactivity: a Facet of Nature showed how a natural phenomenon can be harnessed to yield benefits to society. The multi-faceted exhibition opened in Paris and was shown simultaneously in Wiesbaden and Milan. A travelling demonstration, Fly me to the sun, featured the collaborative design of a spaceship. Modules made by young students across Europe were assembled to show how teams of students and scientists could successfully work together. Other activities covered mathematics, genetics and climate change.
Educate to innovate
The activities of European Science and Technology Week are closely aligned with the aims of the recent Commission Communication Innovation in a knowledge-driven economy(1), among whose main objectives is the goal of making society more 'open to innovation'. As the Communication states: "We need to make both the opportunities and risks of new technologies as transparent as possible in a broad dialogue with science, business and the general public." Improved public understanding of science is also a goal of Commissioner Busquin's European Research Area (ERA) initiative(2), which aims to improve collaboration, communication and co-ordination across public and private sectors.
The Science Week can only serve to stimulate interest and an openness to technological progress among a public whose faith in science has recently been shaken by the BSE crisis and other food scares. If it also succeeds in encouraging more young citizens to take up careers in science, it will have made an important contribution to Europe's future safety and prosperity.
(1) See 'Time for an Innovation Upgrade', edition 6/00, and Special Edition of November 2000.
(2) See 'Dawn of a New ERA', edition 6/00.
- S. Parker, European Commission
Human Potential and Mobility Directorate
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