The decreasing interest of youth towards studying science subjects is a perceived phenomenon in many countries of the world. Less and less students are actually deciding to undertake science university courses. In Italy, for instance, the students enrolled in science university curricula, if compared to the total of university students, are in sharp decrease, passing from almost the 50% of ‘51/’52 academic year to the more or less 30% of the 2000/’01.
Even though statistical data show such a worrying situation, no coherent and in depth research is available at the European level, which could explain the reasons and the causes that make youth less and less willing to study scientific subjects at university. The only explicative hypothesis toward the phenomenon was made by an Eurobarometer survey (Eurobarometer 55.2, 2001, “European, Science and technology”), which reported as determining factors the “lack of appeal of science curricula”, the fact that they are “too difficult” and their “bad perspectives in terms of salaries and careers”. Such negative perceptions are not on the other hand confirmed by the ISTAT data on “University and careers”, which instead show how science degrees have, generally speaking, a good performance in the job market and how graduates in the scientific field who work have generally a good satisfaction level towards their work.
What are, then, the real motivations which lead young people to refuse science curricula?
OBSERVA, with the patronage of the European Association of the Deans of Science, in anticipation of a wider and more complete research, to carry out at an European level, aimed to describe and analyse the educational paths which lead to start scientific careers, prepared a preliminary report which seems to suggest that the ‘science vocation’ crisis results from the interaction of three main sets of factors traceable to the features of the historical context, of the school education and of the image of science in society. Such factors seem to be deciding in creating the stereotypes which define science as difficult, elitist and consequently unable to be interesting and attractive for the public in general, and for young people in particular. To precisely understand how and through which processes such factors interact will be the first step in order to give a clear answer to a question which worries both at a national and international level.