“Why don’t European girls like STEM subjects?” Microsoft publish the most in-depth research and outlines the reasons

According to OECD data, in the European Union, less than one in five computer science graduates is a woman. One of the outlined reasons is that the interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM subjects) drops off very early before becoming an interesting career prospect.

This is a problem for both the current and future jobs market: the European Union could face a shortage of up to 900,000 skilled ICT workers by 2020 according to the European Commission. Additionally, if there were as many women as men in the digital jobs market, the European Union's annual GDP could increase by €9 billion.

What are the reason behind this skill gap? Why are girls losing interest in STEM subjects?

In order to reply to these questions, Microsoft published the study "Why Europe's girl aren't studying STEM?", a region-wide research that surveyed 11,500 women. The findings of the study leads to a number of recommendations on how to get more young women into STEM subjects.

The research spans 12 European countries: Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, and the UK. According to Microsoft, this survey is the most in-depth European study conducted on this topic to date.

The main findings show:

  • There is a narrow, four-year window of opportunity to foster girls' passion in STEM subjects in Europe.
  • The country where young women live has a major impact on their attitudes to STEM. Results varied wildly from country to country. In some places, confidence is a major barrier, while in others, peer approval or lack of role models is holding them back most.
  • There are five major drivers affecting girls' interest in STEM subjects. These include encouragement, mentorship, gaining practical experience and having visible role models.

The research also makes recommendations for policymakers, educators and private sector executives on how to get more young women interested in these fields.

STEM Alliance welcomes with satisfaction the effort made by Microsoft to map with such an extensive accuracy the reasons behind the issue, and is committed to help students and in particular women to embrace STEM subjects.

This is why STEM Alliance is actively promoting a broad array of projects and initiatives regarding STEM at the European level, collaborating with European Ministries of Education, private partners and non-profit sector.

In order to prepare teachers and school to train the STEM professional of tomorrow, STEM Alliance launched the "Opening Minds to STEM careers" Massive Online Open Course (MOOC). The MOOC aims at training and empowering teachers to successfully introducing and attracting young people to STEM careers from an early age.

Moreover, in Microsoft's report, a 16-years-old girl from Ireland remarked "It would be great to invite a famous female scientist to school. Someone we could relate to and ask for advice", while a 15-year-old in France believed "practical examples of what I have learned in physics help me better understand what I'm studying".

This is why STEM Alliance aims at contributing to innovation in STEM teaching at all levels of education (primary, secondary, tertiary) by developing greater contextualisation of STEM teaching and making STEM studies more attractive for young students. Contextualisation of STEM teaching can be fostered in education by integrating industrial practices , mobility schemes between schools and industry, volunteering programmes and supporting guidance counsellors in schools to ensure greater promotion of STEM jobs.

As part of the mobility schemes, STEM Alliance launched the STEM "Professionals Go Back To School" Scheme, a brand new programme to introduce more creative and hands-on experiences in classes and to provide STEM students with the role model they need.

STEM Alliance is also trying to spark girls' interest in STEM trough the "All-STEM, All-Star" competition, in order to make teaching and learning more collaborative, immersive and social. The competition – which runs on a European level – aims at placing a greater focus on STEM education as part of the EC's Skills Agenda strategy, involving both teachers and students at the same time.

This world needs skilled scientists, engineers and technicians of both genders who have experience in STEM subjects over a long period. STEM Alliance and its partners joined forces to ensure European students are ready to succeed in a world where STEM skills are increasingly important.