What do you know about the EU STEM Coalition?

The EU STEM Coalition is the EU’s main network of national STEM platforms, here we learn more.

The EU STEM Coalition is a network of national STEM platforms: organisations that support the coordination and implementation of national or regional strategy for STEM education and labour market. The focus of the network is primarily on the implementation of the national or regional objectives. In other words, ‘how can we translate a policy objective into an effective implementation programme’. These programmes often rely on the close cooperation between the ‘triple helix’ of government, industry and education providers.

As a network, the EU STEM Coalition has two roles: it facilitates best-practice sharing between the national STEM platforms, and it actively supports the development of new national and regional strategies, platform organisations and implementation programmes based on existing best practices. The latter is achieved through so-called ‘taskforces’ which, on the request of a Member State, support the development of new approaches for example by providing experts from organisations and programmes relevant to the objectives of the country or region.

In 2017 the European Commission published the ‘Communication on a Renewed EU Agenda for Higher Education’, which stated that “the Commission will launch an upscaled EU STE(A)M Coalition” based on the network. The EU STEM Coalition is currently in the process of implementing this objective with a new project called ‘Towards a European STE(A)M Platform’. The objective of this project is to deliver a full-fledged support infrastructure that can support countries and regions in the development of a STEM approach that fits the national or regional context. Through this project, the network also aims to achieve a better insight in ‘what works’ by leveraging the data and information generated by the platforms and research as well as increase international cooperation between national STEM platforms, in particular in the development of new programmes.

We spoke to coordinator of the EU Stem Coalition, Geert Asselbergs, about the importance of STEM in Europe and the role the EU STEM Coalition plays in this.

Can we begin with a brief introduction into STEM? What is it and why is it so important?

STEM refers to the academic disciplines of ‘Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics’. In a policy context the term ‘STEM’ often also includes technical Vocational Education and Training (VET) and science-related courses in secondary education. The number and proportion of STEM graduates is often viewed as a pre-condition for innovation and economic growth.

What is the current situation of STEM education in the EU? What more needs to be done and how can this be achieved?

The situation regarding STEM education varies greatly between Member States. Generally speaking, many Member States are experiencing both a quantitative and a qualitative ‘skills mismatch’. Quantitative skills mismatch refers to shortages of STEM graduates. These shortages are especially visible in ICT-related professions, where large numbers of vacancies remain unfulfilled. Qualitative skills mismatch on the other hand refers to the mismatch between the skills of recent graduates and the needs of employers. This form of skills mismatch results in the need for re-training by employers and difficulties in the transition from education to the labour market.

Both quantitative and qualitative skills mismatch hamper economic growth, innovation and the ability of companies to quickly adapt to and benefit from the emergence of new technologies. In addition, they can have a ‘spillover’ effect onto other policy areas. For example, the unavailability specific kinds of technicians (e.g. wind turbine maintenance, heat pump installation, etc.) can be a major bottleneck in the implementation of regional objectives related to the energy transition.

Finally, in many Member States there is a growing notion that a minimum level of STEM skills are an increasingly important requirement for ‘active citizenship’. For example, making a doctor’s appointment or evaluating news sources often requires some level of digital literacy. The European Commission highlighted the link between STEM skills and social inclusion in in their report ‘Science Education for Responsible Citizenship’ (2015).

When it comes to girls in STEM, how far do you think this has come over the past couple of years? What more can/needs to be done when it comes to this?

In many Member States girls are underrepresented in STEM-education and jobs. This is especially true in the field of ICT where even in the best-performing country (Finland), only one in five ICT-professionals is female.

Many Member States, regions as well as NGO’s, private sector organisations, universities and even individual companies and schools have developed a wide variety of actions and approaches targeted specifically at increasing STEM uptake among girls. Often used models include the use of female role models in the classroom, relating STEM subjects to specific societal challenges and projects for example, and inquiry based learning activities.

One of the key issues often seen at the level of the Member State is the lack of coordination between these individual interventions, especially in different education levels. This is caused by the fact that an integrated ‘chain approach’ that covers the entire education chain (‘talent pipeline’) from primary education to the labour market requires the coordinated involvement of different ministries, government departments as well as other stakeholders. Some Member States have addressed this issue by creating a dedicated ‘STEM platform’ and/or national strategy that covers the entire education chain.

Where do you hope to see STEM in the EU in the next five years, and what role do you hope to see EU STEM Coalition to play in this?

There has been a lot of attention on the acute shortages of STEM skilled people for the labour market. However, the increasing pace of technological developments is changing labour market demands to the point that simply updating the curriculum is no longer sufficient. To stay competitive, a more systemic shift needs to take place towards more and structural cooperation between education institutions and industry.

There are already many large-scale examples of new concepts of e.g. public-private partnerships education. In addition, the European Commission is contributing to upscaling these models through new instruments such as the ‘Centres of Vocational Excellence’-initiative, which in turn was inspired by national best practices. The EU STEM Coalition aims to provide a support infrastructure that can effectively assist countries and regions with the development of new national and regional strategies, platform organisations by leveraging existing best practices.

Geert Asselbergs
EU STEM Coalition
Tweet @STEM_Europe

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