Are Europe’s schools and universities churning out graduates with useless degrees? Despite the struggling EU economy, fewer and fewer Europeans are studying so-called ‘hard’ subjects like science, engineering and maths. Since 2006, the number of ICT and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) graduates in Europe has plunged by almost 10%!

In the workforce today, only half of Europeans are deemed to be ‘digitally skilled’. And yet, over 90% of jobs today require these digital skills. In other words, there is a ‘skills gap’ in Europe, and it’s growing worse.

The situation is especially perverse when you consider that so many young people across the continent are unable to find jobs, while at the same time there are employers out there struggling to fill vacancies. If things continue as they are, then there will be a predicted 825,000 unfilled vacancies just for ICT professionals alone by 2020.

Want to learn more about the growing skills gap in Europe? Check out our infographic below (click for a bigger version):

Education skills gap in the EU_final

We had a comment from Paul suggesting that it was time to overhaul our educations systems, and “stimulate youngsters to choose studies that are truly needed within society, decreasing the skills gap”.

Is he right? Should governments encourage people to study ‘hard’ technical subjects instead of ‘soft’ subjects, like arts and humanities? To get a response we spoke to Jon Steinberg, public policy manager at Google in Europe. What was Google’s position on this question?

For another perspective we also spoke to David Calle, a popular Spanish YouTuber and founder of Unicoos, an e-learning website that helps students learn about maths, physics, and chemistry online. Did he think that studying science was really more valuable to society than studying art or history, as Paul argues?

What do students themselves think? We spoke to Krtin Nithiyanandam, a 15-year-old student from the UK and a finalist for the Google Science Fair Prize. In his spare time, Krtin developed a potential test for Alzheimer’s which could allow the disease to be diagnosed long before the first symptoms appear (so, a normal teenage hobby project, then!).

Obviously, Krtin has a great interest in science – but what sparked this interest in him?

Finally, we had a comment from Inés arguing that even more effort needed to be focused on ensuring more women in particular enter careers in science and technology. There is a significant gender gap in science, and Inés argued that you cannot encourage more women to study STEM subjects with just a clever marketing campaign. In her view, governments need to invest real money, including scholarships, to encourage women to go into science careers.

To get a response to Inés’s comment, we spoke to Cocky Booij, Director of the National Expert Organisation on Girls / Women and Science / Technology (VHTO) in the Netherlands. What would she have to say?

booijWell, I think you should do both things. You should start a clever marketing campaign, but meanwhile we should try to get coding in the curricula of schools in primary education. And I think for girls especially you should start extra events, such as code events, after-school clubs, etc.

For example, on the weekends and during holidays we organise code events for 50-100 schoolgirls from ages 8 to 18. And those girls experience what it’s like to really be creators using all those new technologies. And I think by doing these sort of things we make them really enthusiastic and empower them to be engaged. So, do both things.

Are European schools and universities churning out graduates with useless degrees? Are too many students choosing ‘soft’ subjects like art and history, and not enough tackling ‘hard’ subjects such as engineering and maths? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Paul Goyette

31 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Dimitris Stamiris

    countries HAVE history (big or small) and that’s make people know where they coming from !!!!!
    To lose (or change) history make you like you have amnesia

    Of course is that what they want from us … To lose our routs cause they think we are numbers

    Xristina Skandalari Μιχαλης Μιχαηλιδης Daria Bilska-Stamiri Νίκος Χατζητρακόσιας Radek Otta

  2. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    They all very important. Art because we need creativity in people. History so we won’t repeat the same mistakes. And of course science to generate scientists and innovators! We just teach them the wrong way, from the wrong angle. In history we should teach the horrors of war and conflict, not glorify the heroic achievements of our ancestors. In arts we should encourage open mindedness and creativity, not just teach its boring history and significance in the past. We should introduce new subjects like European studies at the latter levels of education, in high-schools, so we will have informed European citizens. Finally we should introduce sexual education in schools, to have happy and comfortable with their sexuality individuals, which will reduce stereotypes, discrimination, sexism and STI’s or unwanted teen pregnancies. Human sexuality goes hand in hand with human creativity, so sexually aware humans make happy and creative individuals!!

  3. avatar
    Claus Skøtt Christensen

    Here in Denmark, the problem isn’t that history students can’t find work; the problem is that people with degrees like “communication between two specific types of business” or “economics in this exact sector” can’t find work outside of the particular niche that their degree covers. It was a real problem in Denmark up until a few years ago; in order to save money, the government decided to just educate people for the specific tasks they needed to do, rather than give them a broad education of which the lions share would go unused. But then 2008 happened, and nobody could find any jobs with their specialized degrees – nor could they look elsewhere without going back to school first.
    I dunno how the rest of the world got around this problem.

  4. avatar
    Rick Shay

    thanks Claus! Any of my “Why can’t we be lie Denmark?” friends and family out there… Just be careful what you ask for. In some European countries it’s quite lucky to actually get to work in the same area your degree is focused. I personally find that Spain has some of the most highly educated college graduates who only can find jobs as waiters and waitresses (or some other dead-end job) making just a bit more than minimum wage and no viable opportunity to work at anything else in the near future.

  5. avatar
    Nikko Kossack

    NO they get employed in the EU lets take an example Mogherini attended the Sapienza University of Rome where she studied Political Science graduating with a Diploma in Political Philosophy with a thesis entitled “Relationship between religion and politics in Islam — POLITICAL PHYLOSOPHY in other words NOT producing anything usdeful.. I REST my case only politics and the EU are the solution. SO the EU collects all the garbage out of the universities of these nonsensical degree

  6. avatar
    Dionìs KC

    A little bit…Putting a 14 yar old kid into deciding whether she/hehe is fit to get specialized in the difficult natural sciences will probably SCARE her/him away. Plus, the most important, high schools ignore the necessity of general education, bringing to social scientists who lack sense of mathematical logics and sense of quantity, and engineers who lack knowledege of social sciences. Keep teaching maths, history and literature at high school. Make general education marks from high school important for being accepted into universities. I was the second last generation of general gymnasium at my high school, after the least was then divided into classes of natural sciences and social sciences. Then I got a degree in applied sciences, and I´ve never regretted those lectures on social sciences, neither did I feel I was less prepared in maths and physics than my natural-science-specialized university colleagues.

    • avatar

      I agree, Here in The Netherlands the teachers decide by CITO test what a child is good for, by age 12 they are segregated into 4 levels of education. So if by age 15 they decide to go for a different route, it is too late. A general education is far better way to go.

  7. avatar
    Breogán Costa

    As an Engineer working in a Science research center, I could say that History, Art and Science are all necessary, as well as Languages and Economy (and maybe Ethics). We should study those topics and in a more creative way (also, in a less politicized -in my country ‘history’ is a very politicized topic, and the ones studying economy, exactly the same, they teach them dogmas instead of knowledge).
    The any topic I think is not necessary is religion. History of religions as well as ‘Cultures from the whole world’ could be studied as part of History topic. That would open our mind.

  8. avatar
    Henry Mutebe, Oslo Norway

    Good question. I think that ICT is increasingly making the future of the job market even more uncertain. Teachers have to grapple with preparing students for a future they do not know. All the current degree programs were based on future predictions of what would be relevant for the market.

    Today, many of them are no longer relevant. So its a difficult path to walk, a hard judgement to make. The future is simply becoming increasingly unpredictable and that is where the challenge is. How do you prepare learners for a future you do not know. The advances in ICT and social engineering make the future harder to predict.

    We could as well focus on Sciences and in about 20 years time, we find a gap in Arts. Its about finding a delicate balance between the two, which in my view, should be organic and not artificially over accelerated. Naturally, students will respond to areas that offer opportunities. I rest my case

  9. avatar
    Markus Grosse

    I completely agree. We live in a globalized world, and we no longer have our empires to prop us up. If we want to compete with China, India, and other rapidly-developing economies, then we need to massively invest in teaching students the right skills for the 21st Century.

  10. avatar

    It’s up to students to make free choices but it’s up to schools and society to offer the students highly purposeful (rather than strictly useful) education and jobs.

  11. avatar
    Stelios Manousakis

    I guess it also has to do with how we select the professors… Just because you have a PHD or a Dr doesn’t mean that you know what you are talking about… Too much theory… Too much pressure to do it “right”…but we actually learn from our mistakes

  12. avatar
    Rui Duarte

    I am more concerned that universities are churning out gansters: hence ENRON, all the banksters, now VW, and the list won’t stop here.

  13. avatar
    Omid Danesh Khorak


  14. avatar
    Emil Panayotoff

    Everything is useful to be studied and to have specialists in. Without culture there is nothing and science will be useless kind of… because no culture = no life… but we need to have better education and more specific with better organisation. Whatever is more likely to give you a job should be easier to study :) and now it is a bit the opposite. It is easier to study things which will leave you jobless. Business schools should be the easiest and most accessible as well as science. ;)

  15. avatar
    Natasha Glendening

    I genuinely disagree. Education shouldn’t always be a means to an end, sure people do need to work. But philosophy, history, and more should be learnt for itself not in order to further ones career. Equally those degrees aren’t useless per se, you can get plenty of really good jobs with a good social science degree regardless of speciality,

  16. avatar
    catherine benning

    Quite simply the education in the UK is a farce. The only education you can get for your child that is an enlightenment of the mind is if you pay for it privately. The way the majority of our politicians do.

    What they receive as education in my country is mundane indoctrination. And when they do it they have to keep reducing the educational requirement needed to enter higher education or else the colleges and universities would be empty if they didn’t. For goodness sake those who leave after 12 years of solid ‘education’ barely have a functioning vocabulary let alone a free thinking knowledge to work with.

    It is all a hype and time it was exposed for what it is, a tax fraud.

    I can’t comment on the rest of Europe as I don’t know the standards in other countries. But, my Polish builders son tells me our British school education, the one he entered here is a joke, he learned more in Poland in a year than he did here in six.

  17. avatar
    Yannick Cornet

    I recommend less MBAs and more environmental scientists, if we are serious about wanting to have a chance to do art and history for ssome more time

  18. avatar
    Petr Horak

    5,6m young people unemployed and 825k vacancies? You can learn to code online and it should be parent’s (and elementary school’s) initiative to motivate their children to do so.

  19. avatar
    Gerhard Böhler

    It’s easy: Stop corruption and start a process of education renewal for proper education. And make a system of work experience ECTS. Europe seems so backwards when compared with Asia. And ask for some training for those in the HR offices. They often seem too cowardly to take staff with vast work experience but without training certification. Erasmus is too short and should include countries ouside of EU.

  20. avatar
    Dalibor Medvedović

    At the beggining Marketing and resarch was the sama science, but development made lot of marketing and not so mani research or development.

  21. avatar

    I think a good start would be to teach children how to learn and not just how to take a test.

  22. avatar
    Vinko Rajic

    Yes , people should learn how to build and develop country . They should study science and technology and NOT how to sell social scams .

  23. avatar
    Irena Leibovici

    Agriculture, healthcare, education … not aqll are related ONLY to science and technology, bur CONNECTED. What about understanding the rest of the [profession? Practice?

  24. avatar
    Cinzia Colaiuda

    I think digital skills should be possessed by all students, by all EU citizens. The future of education is not in the polarization of subjects but in their mutual integration.

Your email will not be published

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Notify me of new comments. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More debate series – Entrepreneurship in the Digital Age View all

By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies on your device as described in our Privacy Policy unless you have disabled them. You can change your cookie settings at any time but parts of our site will not function correctly without them.