Warning over EU’s ageing science workforce

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Ageing populations in the science and technology professions are putting the EU’s innovation potential at risk, according to the bloc’s statistics agency Eurostat, which published new figures last week.

Faced with ageing populations, EU member states should pay special attention to human resources in science and technology (HRST) “to ensure that their hard-earned knowledge is conserved,” conclude Eurostat statistics on senior HRST in Europe published on 18 March 2008.

Eurostat refers to an annual report on science and technology in Japan, which argues that the rapid ageing of Japanese society has increased the proportion of middle-aged and senior citizens in scientific professions. As the trend of lower birth rates coupled with populations is set to continue, the Japanese expect that the number of researchers and engineers will decrease rapidly.

To remedy the situation, the country’s industry, academia and research institutions recommend special treatment for older researchers so that they can continue their work and show their creativity.

As for the EU, the share of European HRST aged 45-64 fluctuated between 30% and 50% in 2006. Bulgaria, Finland, Germany and Sweden had the highest proportion of senior HRST in the EU 27 at around 46%. Meanwhile, Spain and Ireland had the lowest proportion of senior HRST (30%) as well as a relatively high number of young HRST in the 25-34 age group. 

The statistics also conclude that “senior employed HRST aged 45-64 were less mobile than younger employed HRST”. Only Denmark and the UK had relatively high mobility among senior scientists, possibly due to their flexible labour force policies that encourage mobility. 

Supporting the mobility of researchers is one of the objectives of the EU’s Growth and Jobs (Lisbon) Strategy, as mobile science and technology human resources contribute to better knowledge transfer between industry, academia and research organisations, which in turn is expected to lead to increased innovation.

Since the Lisbon declaration in March 2000, EU member states have also been stressing the need to increase the number of people entering science and technology careers. In terms of human resources, it is estimated that an extra half a million researchers (or 1.2 million research-based staff) are needed to meet the Lisbon goals of innovation and competitiveness.

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