Corporate Investment to Increase Interest in Mathematics, Science and Technology: A General Analysis for the Volvo Group

22 June 2009

A report by Nicholas Tengelin (Chalmers University of Technology), commissioned by the Volvo Group

This report reviews and analyses an extensive range of data sources and studies to assess the extent of and reasons for the impending reduction in Mathematics, Science and Technology (MST) graduates (and therefore the recruitment pool) in Europe. Eurostat and OECD statistics, Swedish research papers (primarily those emerging from the Relevance Of Science Education, or ROSE initiative), Volvo Group industry data and discussions “with educators, researchers, policy makers and content providers in science education around the world” are all drawn upon to create a rich dataset with (unusually for this field) global reach. The report makes multiple recommendations for addressing the decline in take-up of MST subjects which, although the remit is focussed on Sweden, are relevant to all countries experiencing similar problems (such as the UK, France and Japan).

Tengelin first evidences the issue: “Europe has experienced a 10.8% decrease in the relative share of graduates from mathematics, science and technology tertiary education”, with the United Kingdom experiencing the sharpest decline and being one of “the worst off”. He notes existing industry backing for investment, stating that the European Round Table of Industrialists have “identified increasing young people’s interest in MST as essential for sustainable economic growth in Europe”. Current attitudes to MST subjects amongst young Europeans are negative and highly subject to gender stereotyping, with very few girls envisaging becoming scientists or becoming involved in MST-based careers.

Reasons for these attitudinal trends include: science and technology needs are perceived to be fulfilled; science-related jobs are not perceived to be meaningful; there is a lack of attractive role models, especially for girls; a lack of understanding and low levels of information, advice and guidance about MST careers – such careers are also perceived to have low salaries and poor job satisfaction rates. For schools, there is a lack of ‘inquiry-based learning’ and much of the content of MST syllabuses is taught by rote. Teachers are “ill-equipped”, have had minimal training and do not have the support available to connect MST to practical, social and economic realities. He calls for corporations, employers and universities to help make MST learning relevant and “work with schools conducting in-service training of MST teachers and universities educating MST teachers to ensure inclusion of tuition in new scientific and technological developments, and in how MST is relevant to your organisation and future societal development”.

The final section of the report constructs the business case for industry involvement in MST education, analysing the return on varying levels of investment in MST deficit reduction activities. He calculates the Volvo Group’s share of the deficit up to 2025, multiplying this by the economic value of an engineer (using the Human Economic Value Added measurement and the Total Contribution Margin) to find expected loss of net income. This is one of very few analyses to determine a numerical cost of the future absence of employer engagement.

The most comprehensive and long-term cost-effective solution was found to be an industry-wide response involving partnership between businesses as well as schools, colleges, universities and government “to secure the quantity and quality of an educated workforce”. To be financially viable, a minimum of 10% of current engineering employers would need to engage in school business partnerships and be prepared to share the total investment cost. Assuming that no action is taken to engage with MST education, Tengelin calculates the cost of the coming workforce deficit to the Volvo Group in Sweden at SEK 1770 million (£162,181,000) between the years 2008-2025.

Corporate Investment to Increase Interest in Mathematics, Science and Technology: A General Analysis for the Volvo Group – full report

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