Fighting fear of science key to stopping sci-tech brain drain

EUCYS 2013, photo: EUCYS 2013 official website

For the first time Prague has just played host to the European Union Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS), a prestigious science fair and competition that takes place each year. The Czech capital brought together some of the brightest young minds in science and technology, at a time of growing concern at the numbers of young Czechs deserting scientific subjects for the humanities. Radio Prague spoke to Martin Samek from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at the Czech Technical University in Prague.

EUCYS 2013,  photo: EUCYS 2013 official website
“At the moment the problem is that not so many young people are going to study technical sciences. Most young people are aiming for economics, law, medicine and so on.”

Why is that Martin?

“I think it’s a kind of fear. A fear of mathematics, physics, and other really hard technical sciences and courses. So the task of these small robots [on the table in front of him] is to get the students more familiar with these subjects and lose their fear.”

OK. The Czech Republic is obviously a country with a great tradition of engineering and respect for science and technology. Are you saying there is a risk that younger Czechs are losing that interest and respect for science and technology?

Martin Samek,  photo: archive of Czech Technical University in Prague
“We are very afraid of this. In recent years the amount of students has been decreasing each year. Each year we have a lower number of new students at our university. So we’re making a big effort and constantly thinking of new ways to attract students, how to convince them that a technical education is the best option for their future life.”

And when you apply that on a wider level to Europe as a whole – do you see the same thing happening throughout Europe? Are we seeing China and Asia in general overtake us Europeans in science?

“I think in our region, in Austria, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, even Germany a little bit, we see that young people are not so familiar with technical study. But we can also see that a lot of students from China or South America are arriving here to study here, because they know we are masters of technical engineering. So we try and attract foreign students to come here, and also try and attract our own students from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and so on.”

EUCYS 2013,  photo: EUCYS 2013 official website
And what do you think of events like EUCYS, and other EU efforts at popularising science?

“I can say two words – it’s great. It’s great because it takes young people and shows them science. Technical sciences. It shows them options for their studies and tries to convince them that studying science is fun, it’s not so hard, and that these young people will be very useful for society in their professional lives.”