Analyses and results so far

A summary report of the first findings from the Lily data material from tertiary (university/college) students was issued in Norwegian in June 2010.

A total of 7540 respondents (5007 from STEM disciplines and 2533 from non-STEM studies), constitute the data material used in this report. This corresponds to around 70 percent of the target population. The STEM respondents are sorted into six categories: engineering (bachelor programmes), graduate engineering (master programmes), health (including pharmacy, medical laboratory science etc.), informatics (including programming and computer technology), general science (including biology, chemistry, earth sciences etc.), and mathematics & physics. The non-STEM respondents are categorized into nursing, business & administration, and travel & tourism.

Below is a summary of findings and recommendations from this report.

Important values in future job

All students have interest, self realisation and self development as important expectations and aims for education and future job. They want to develop their talents and abilities. Idealism and meaning are also important priorities. Our respondents want an education and a career that is relevant and meaningful and enables them to help other people or do something important for society or the environment. Particularly nursing students emphasise these values, whereas informatics/ICT students score relatively lower.

Secure employment and income are also prioritized, and again, nursing students score higher than other groups. Also of some relevance is making a lot of money. This applies in particular to students in engineering and business & administration, whereas students in physics & mathematics and general science emphasise high wages relatively lower. Engineering students, more than other respondents, want to work with something practical, whereas the opposite is true for students of mathematics & physics are more focused on research and development. No groups prioritize working with something easy and simple.

Expectations for the study situation

The students expect that the education they have entered will be relevant, interesting, meaningful and useful. They expect a pleasant everyday life as students. Students within health, engineering and graduate engineering are particularly concerned that the study must be useful on the labour market. Students also expect to be proud of having accomplished the education they have started, and it means a lot to them to do well in their studies. Most students (nurses and engineers in particular) are fairly certain that they have made the right educational choice, whereas students within general science, graduate engineering, mathematics and physics are more open to changes in their plans.

Students have moderate expectations for how hard their studies will be and how well they can expect to perform. Graduate engineering students believe that their education will require more time and effort than they would have spent studying other disciplines. Students in mathematics and physics have somewhat higher self efficacy than health students. This difference may be due to the higher proportion of males in the former disciplines, since males generally express a stronger self efficacy than females.

Qualities about the teaching and the institution

High scientific or professional standard is seen as one of the most important qualities students seek in an educational institution. They also prioritize an education leading to a range of job opportunities, and where they can see the relevance of what they learn for what they want to work with. These factors are somewhat less important for physics & mathematics students.

Students also emphasize the social relations in the study situation. Again, mathematics & physics students score somewhat lower than the rest. Less important, but still of some importance, are factors concerning the teaching situation and whether it is adapted to each student's needs. Health students in particular emphasize this. No student groups see it as important for their choice to study at the same institution as friends or acquaintances.

The educational institution's image and reputation are of medium importance for our respondents' choice, but somewhat more important to students from The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration.

Role models and "significant others"

Respondents were asked to which extent different persons had inspired and motivated their choice. All persons received generally low ratings; however, girls more than boys expressed that persons had had an impact on their choice. Parents were rated highest, particularly by students in disciplines leading up to specific professions, such as nursing, graduate engineering etc. In responses to the open questions, inspiration from fathers is mentioned far more frequently than influence from mothers.

Teachers as a group receive low ratings as sources of inspiration; however, descriptions in the open questions show that individual teachers may have a significant impact on educational choice. Particularly students in the theoretical science disciplines such as mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology, express that teachers have given inspiration. School-based Career advisers do not appear to have inspired or motivated the studetns.

Publicly known persons from the media are not ascribed any influence on students' choice. However, it is evident that persons in the media may inspire; this is particularly clear for the TV series CSI and its inspiration for students in medical laboratory science.

Popular science and recruitment campaigns

The web pages of the universities and colleges are rated as an important source of inspiration. A vast majority of students have consulted these pages when making their choice. The multitude of campaign websites established by STEM business organizations, professional organizations and so on are visited by a small minority and are not rated as influential by those few who have visited.

Commercials for the educational institutions do not appear to have inspired the students, but a number of those who have experienced school visits to or from a higher education institution, report that the visit was inspiring for their choice. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) appears to have succeeded particularly well with the totality of their recruitment and information material. Popular science books, magazines and television programmes are rated as inspiring by many respondents.

Gender differences and similarities

Concerning a number of aspects of a future job, girls and boys in our study make similar priorities; however, girls value idealism, meaning and a good working environment more than boys, whereas boys, more than girls, want to develop technology and use tools and instruments. We also find small gender differences in students' expectations for their studies; however, girls expect a more demanding study and are less confident that they will succeed. Girls also have somewhat greater demands for the teaching and for the general quality of educational programs.

Non-STEM students' image of mathematics and science

Among the non-STEM respondents in our material, students at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration have a positive image of and attitude to science and mathematics as they know these subjects from school. Their choice not to pursue STEM despite positive attitudes and high self efficacy may be due to assumptions that a business and administration education to a greater extent will enable them to pursue their personal values and aims, which may for instance relate to ambitions about leadership responsibilities and generous conditions in terms of wages and working conditions.

Students of nursing and travel & tourism have an image of STEM subjects as demanding. Their relation to school science is fairly neutral; however, they express that mathematics is a great challenge – and this may be an important factor in their choice not to enrol in a STEM study.

Discussion and recommendations

Based on the results, we will here recommend some strategies that may be effective in recruiting more young people to STEM educations.

If it works, don't fix it – or do we need something different?

The Lily data showed the priorities and values that may lead young people to a choice of STEM education. Thus, we know something about "what works", and one strategy for enhancing recruitment would be to give young people "more of the same" – such as more popular science and inspirational activities. On the other, hand, we can use what we know about those who did not choose STEM, to identify those attitudes (to themselves or to the STEM subjects) that make young people turn away from mathematics and science. To the extent that there is reason to change some of these attitudes (for instance regarding the degree of difficulty of STEM studies, how "suitable" they are for girls, that scientists work alone, that they don't work creatively, etc.), recruitment initiatives may aim to counter such attitudes.

STEM as meaningful

Recruitment initiatives must show how there is room for self development, idealism and meaning in STEM disciplines. There are indications that the zeitgeist has changed from an ideal of "working creatively" with film or design, towards "saving the world" through renewable energy or work for social justice and development. The close association between STEM subjects and challenges within health and environment may not be apparent to all young people. Pointing out how STEM professionals contribute in medical diagnostics and treatment, climate research, renewable energy development, providing clean water and cheap energy in third-world countries etc., may be effective in STEM recruitment – particularly for girls.

STEM as a safe choice

In addition to being idealistic, young people prioritize getting a secure job, being able to find work where they want to live, etc. Many youngsters will be open to arguments that can reduce the feeling of risk connected to their career choice. The role of STEM subjects in the new knowledge society, together with the stipulated increase in demand for STEM professionals on the labour market, mean that STEM education appears as a safe choice. Recruitment campaigns can show STEM offers a safe and comfortable future.

Information about the range of possibilities a STEM education opens

More young people would have a chance of choosing STEM if they had known more about the actual range of possibilities within these disciplines. Visualizing the kinds of tasks and the cooperative relations that for instance and engineer is engaged in, is likely to be effective for recruitment.

Show what the university or college has to offer

Students (particularly girls) expect to meet a high standard at the institution where they choose to study – in terms of teaching quality, relevance to future career, personal follow-up, exchange programs for studies abroad, etc. To the extent that the individual educational institution can claim merits in this regard, this should be emphasised in recruitment and information material.

Youth (girls in particular) need self efficacy in STEM

Low self efficacy contributes to making many young people (particularly girls) turn away from STEM. An important task for parents and teachers – and for recruitment efforts – may be to strengthen young people's self efficacy in STEM disciplines. Information material should emphasise that STEM studies may be pursued not only by the very brightest, but also by more moderately gifted students, as long as they are motivated. Moreover, educational institutions should show that they will give support and follow-up to students to increase their chances of succeeding in the education.

Persons are important in educational choice

Presenting role models and examples of successful former students in universities' and colleges' information material is recommended. The personal meeting with a student or professional during the educational choice process may also be important, and mentoring projects of various kinds are promising in this respect. Mentors and role models must be carefully selected and trained in order to ensure that they actually function as positive ambassadors and are able to generate interest and a positive identification. Parents and teachers may have an important function as "significant others" in the educational choice process, and recruitment and information material may therefore also be aimed at these groups.

Show applications of mathematics and science in school

Teachers may be important in recruiting young people to STEM, but mainly to the disciplines that are "extensions" of the school subjects and less to the more applied disciplines. To help teachers demonstrate the applications of science and mathematics in a range of contexts and professions, curriculum-related material may be developed and offered to schools.

Educational institutions' web pages – and "branding"

Some institutions have succeeded in establishing themselves as "brands" of a good education, and other institutions may learn from these. We also recommend that in stead of launching their own recruitment campaigns and web sites, professional organizations and companies that want to contribute to STEM recruitment should cooperate with the educational institutions in improving the information and recruitment material that the institutions offer.

More, better and more varied popular science

Many of our respondents are inspired by popular science they meet through the media. There is a considerable recruitment potential in improving the quality, quantity and variation (in terms of topics and persons presented) of popular science and other media coverage of STEM-related issues.

Invite the girls in and increase diversity in STEM

We recommend countering the assumption that STEM studies are particularly suited to only a small number of particularly dedicated and gifted individuals. In order to recruit girls to male-dominated educations and careers, girls must see that a STEM career is compatible with a feminine identity. Recruitment initiatives should show that STEM disciplines have room for persons with a range of different values, aims and experiences.