Why too few students do maths and science

Ilaria Maselli, Miroslav Beblavý
KEY POINTS Policy-makers often fret about the low number of university graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Proposed solutions often focus on providing better information for students and parents about the employability or average wages of different fields to emphasise that STEM professions pay. This paper argues that, from a personal point of view, students are actually making rational decisions, if all benefits and costs are factored into the
more » ... tion. It concludes, therefore, that public policy needs to change the incentives to induce students to enter these fields and not just provide information about them. ackling the high and increasing unemployment rate ranks at the top of the EU policy agenda, especially with regard to young people. There is a general consensus that to achieve employment growth, especially for vulnerable groups, it is not enough to kick-start economic growth-skills among both the high-and low-skilled population also need to be improved. However, we need to move beyond simplified narratives and generic policies in order to better understand a much-debated and lamented phenomenon: the lack of graduates in subjects related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Company surveys and statistics report a lack of graduates in STEM subjects, which persists despite the expansion of higher education. Policy interventions have been limited to the provision of better information to students via campaigns aimed at attracting them towards the natural or hard sciences. New research shows, however, that the problem might not be one of information, but rather one of incentives. When fully calculated, cost/benefit analyses do not point in favour of studying 'difficult' subjects. To encourage students to major in these subjects, therefore, policies should be geared towards both disseminating better information and providing of new incentives. T