March 12, 2007 10:41 AM PDT

Nokia: Science skills gap is Europe-wide

The lack of young people taking up scientific careers is a pan-European problem, according to a senior Nokia executive.

Shortly after Nokia announced a collaboration between its research team and Cambridge University--with an initial focus on nanotechnology--Tapani Ryhanen, Nokia's head of global nanotech research, told ZDNet UK that the same story could be told "in Germany or whatever leading EU country."

Last year, Intel shut down its own Cambridge labs, which had covered fields from optical systems to wireless networking. Intel's European general manager, Gordon Graylish, subsequently complained that "there's an almost deliberate streaming by the schools out of mathematics and sciences, based on the fact that those are harder subjects" and said the issue should be a major priority for the government.

Even Margaret Hodge, the U.K. minister of state for industry and regions, admitted in January that the science curriculum was "boring" and that "encouraging enough people to follow science subjects is an enormous challenge."

However, according to Ryhanen, the lack of uptake in scientific education is "not only a U.K. problem," but a more generic European issue.

Ryhanen pointed out that Cambridge has a reputation that "attracts the best researchers from whatever part of the world." He also suggested that the existence of a "whole ecosystem" of companies in the Cambridge area had proven attractive to Nokia in its choice of where to set up its new facility.

Nokia already has two U.S. university collaborations in place: one with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (for computer sciences and artificial intelligence); and one with Stanford University (for Internet and related technologies). According to Ryhanen, Nokia wanted to solidify this program by finding a "strategic collaborator in Europe," particularly one that was already carrying out leading research in nanotechnology.

"The idea of the Cambridge collaboration is that we start from building strong competencies in how we interface technologies to work with the physical world," Ryhanen said Friday. He said the facility initially would be researching new technologies for energy, computer radios, sensing and "materials we can use for user interfaces," then extending the partnership to work toward the development of "embedded intelligence" in the form of, for example, wearable devices with medical applications. Printed electronics is another field the team is keen to explore further.

The European Commission is currently planning to establish a European Institute of Technology (EIT) to rival MIT in the U.S. The U.K., however, has seen growing opposition to the idea, with Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe, chief executive of the Universities U.K. action group, telling a House of Lords committee earlier this month that "although politically driven schemes such as the EIT may have a role to play, there are still substantial challenges in making sure that the tax and regulatory systems in Europe are structured to allow the right environment for R&D to thrive."

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.

See more CNET content tagged:
Cambridge, nanotechnology, Nokia Corp., collaboration, European Union


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What do you expect?
As long as employers hire based on school GPA, a student with high scores in basket weaving will win out over another with lower scores in physics or engineering.

But I'm not bitter. ;-)
Posted by Marcus Westrup (630 comments )
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What do you expect? (Part 2)
My lab has many PhDs in physics, EE, etc. and many have 15+ years of post-PhD experience. Yet we're not getting calls from head hunters. And our salaries, although good, are nowhere near those of doctors, lawyers, executives, etc. In fact, in most other fields people with our level of training and experience will make more money. Clearly, there's NOT a big unmet demand for S&Es.

Managers more and more are treating S&Es like commodity peons, trying to replace us with cheap H1-B labor, outsourcing R&D overseas, and then wondering why students don't want to pursue the rigorous S&E path.

People go into science and engineering for the love of it. But bad management is destroying the morale of S&Es in most Western companies. And word gets around.
Posted by dmm (336 comments )
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Throw away skills and careers
Technical skills offer interesting jobs, good pay but unpredictable careers. There are lots of jobs if you are under 40. Even more if you are under 30. Many companies are quietly laying off 40+ year-old tech workers and replacing them with younger ones here or overseas. Many, many older, highly-skilled tech workers are finding that they have too much experience. Companies do not want the most qualified person, they want the "right fit" -- translation: someone young. When a job ad says 1-2 or 5-10 years experience required, it means that if you have 25 years of experience you need not apply. Ageism is very, very real in technical fields. Accountants, teachers, plumbers and many other careers are better long-term choices than rocket scientist.
Posted by candlynn (5 comments )
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This is no surprise to me...
Here in France, the situation is no better: with pratically no job openings and less than decent salaries, I know many PhD graduates who have been forced to get out of science fields. And this situation is not new! It was already like this 15-20 years ago when I finished my MSc...

I've been lucky enough to get an engineer job at that time but as somebody said in an earlier comment, it has become very difficult to drive an engineer career when you are over 40...

Clearly, I won't recommend engineering or scientific careers to my children...
Posted by pascalgaulin (2 comments )
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:-) it's al about propaganda
kids don't choose engineering because it's not cool, however with the right propaganda delivered through media this can change. It the 60's the race to the moon delivered the right thing for a entire generation, and the result is the generation that bought us to where we are today.
Posted by zolyfarkas (20 comments )
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have to add a few more words
Building schools will not generate more engineers, Throwing money at them will not generate engineers, instead throw money at hollywod and produce movies where engineers are the heroes, they are cool, they get the girl(most important). Throw money at marketing campaigns ...

If companies want more engineers, and if governments want more engineers they should use the media like always to do that, it worked just fine to convince me that invading iraq was the right thing to do.

My advice to people who are choosing a career, do something you like to do, and can do well. Don't follow trends, you will end up in a crowded market and possibly not liking what you do.
Posted by zolyfarkas (20 comments )
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This is a great topic. I will continue discussing this in a blog series titled "Skills Gap Fix," until later this year, when I will present on the topic at the Emerson Global Users Exchange in Washington D.C. I read ARC's report on this and will be writing another blog on how the U.K is approaching this issue. Also, this week the Automation Federation is meeting with U.S. legislators to discuss this university approach to the skills gap with both 2 and 4 year programs to try to remedy it.

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Jason Covington
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Posted by Jason_Covington (1 comment )
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