Science in the Candidate Countries: enthusiastic but with poor prospects, the young abandon research careers

April 4, 2003

Brussels, 3 April 2003

Important questions for the future of science in an enlarged Europe are raised by a Commission survey published today. More than half of all people questioned had little interest in science and technology, with young men in Cyprus and Hungary the most likely to value science, and older women in Bulgaria and Turkey the least. Young people are turning their backs on scientific careers, citing poor salary prospects as the chief reason. However, eight out of ten people believed that science could improve their quality of life and cure terminal illnesses and that generally European research delivered positive results.

Presenting the results of the Eurobarometer on research in the Candidate Countries, European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: "People are more optimistic about science in the Candidate Countries than in current Member States. They are more confident in the capacity of science and technology to build a better future. But they are abandoning research due to a lack of resources and career prospects in science. The time is ripe for greater investment in research in these countries as part of an enlarged EU. We must ensure that we invest now in our scientific legacy for future European generations."

For this Eurobarometer survey sample questions were fielded in November 2002 to a total of 12,247 nationals in the 13 candidate countries: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Turkey.

Lacking information…

The Eurobarometer shows there is a clear science divide in society. 56% of Candidate Countries' nationals are neither interested nor informed about science and technology (EU15: 45%). Only 35% of people expressed an interest in science (EU15: 45%). Two thirds of participants in the survey think they are badly informed about science and technology.

High interest in science and technology is seen in Cyprus (58%), Hungary (53%), Malta (50%) and Slovenia (50%) while two countries present a below-average interest: Bulgaria (34%) and Turkey (22%). Romania is exactly on average: 35%.

….but confident science can improve our quality of life

Demographic analyses show that women are less interested in scientific topics (29%) than are men (41%). The youngest age group has the highest level of interest in science and technology (44%), compared to 26% in the oldest age group.

Science is seen as a very positive value in the Candidate Countries; citizens expect a lot from scientific progress. About eight in 10 people in the candidate region believe that science and technology "are making our lives healthier, easier, and more comfortable" (81%), and that scientific and technological progress will help to cure nowadays often terminal illnesses such as cancer or AIDS (77%).

No evil inventions

People have a positive opinion of scientists although the picture is quite ambiguous. Most people throughout Europe (a bit more in the EU than outside) believe that science is value neutral in the sense that there are no evil inventions only the application of a certain scientific finding can be good or bad. Still, scientists are held responsible for the misuse of their discoveries by almost half (49%) of the respondents in the candidate region (EU15: 43%). In candidate countries scientists are seen as responsible with industry for the BSE crisis.

Career prospects

With regards to young people and their declining interest in scientific studies and careers, the principal reason is linked to the labour market in the candidate region. Most people think that mediocre career prospects and low salaries turn people away from pursuing scientific studies and careers.

Thumbs up for EU research

There is considerable support for European research, which is seen as more effective. Clearly, people in both parts of Europe feel closer co-operation between European scientists and European countries would strengthen Europe's scientific world status. Enlargement is seen to promote the scientific potential of both the candidate countries and the current Member States.

Scientific literacy

Finally, as measured by this survey, the level of Europeans' scientific literacy is slightly lower in the candidate countries than in the 15 Member States. In the candidate region, the Turkish, the Romanians, and the Maltese are the least informed, while Slovenes, the Czech and Hungarians are the most informed in basic scientific questions.

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DN: IP/03/484 Date: 03/04/2003

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