73% of Brits more inclined to believe STEM education is crucial post-COVID

The 2020 State of Science Index finds that, despite a sharp rise in respect for scientists, barriers to equality in STEM education appear more pronounced than ever

Perhaps the UK hasn’t had enough of experts after all.

Three-quarters of Britons are now more likely to agree that the world needs more people working in STEM careers, with 73% more inclined to believe that strong STEM education is crucial.

According to the 2020 edition of 3M’s annual State of Science Index, living through a pandemic has also left more than three-quarters of Britons (77%) more likely to believe that science plays a critical role in solving public health crises. The vast majority (92%) said that fellow citizens should follow scientific advice to help contain coronavirus.

As part of a global study, 3M surveyed more than 1,000 people in the UK both before and during life with COVID-19.

It found that scepticism of science has fallen in the UK for the first time in three years, as evidenced in several ways.

“Despite extensive investment in STEM education, barriers seem to be getting worse” – Dr Jayshree Seth, 3M corporate scientist

Before the pandemic, fewer than one-in-five Britons would defend science when debating its merits; today, half would advocate on its behalf. Further, 75% of people are more likely to say that levels of science funding should increase.

“Our survey this year has taken the pandemic pulse of the nation and really brought home that science is having its moment,” says Dr Jayshree Seth, 3M corporate scientist and global chief science advocate.

“COVID-19 has put science on the world stage, demonstrating to all its value and importance at both a societal and individual level.”

Alas, says Dr Seth, this attitudinal shift is far from reflected by an equality of opportunity.

“Despite extensive UK public and private sector investment in STEM education to secure the next generation of scientists, barriers still exist and, in fact, seem to be getting worse.”

Indeed, the survey found that significantly more Generation Z and millennial respondents (23%) said they had been discouraged from studying science in school than baby boomers and members of Generation X (11%).

From the archive: Our report on the 2019 State of Science Index

Thirty-one percent cited gender, race and ethnicity inequalities as a reason for discouragement, with 27% complaining of a lack of access to science classes.

Economic factors were found to be another key differentiator, with 70% of high-income parents saying their children participated in STEM activities, set against 55% from low- or mid-income families.

“This is a worrying obstacle to future advancements in science and technology,” says Dr Seth. “We must all work together to overcome this if we are to solve the big challenges, like the one facing us now, and find sustainable solutions.”

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