Students in STEM – Selected Insights from Germany
An annual study by the German national STEM forum (Nationales MINT-Forum) evaluates the dynamics of STEM education in secondary schools and universities, focusing on the choices made by students in STEM subjects. Here are the key findings:
1. Declining Interest in STEM in Secondary Schools
- The number of students opting for advanced-level STEM courses in German secondary schools decreased from around 163,000 in 2014/15 to about 124,000 in 2021/22, reflecting a demographic decline in student numbers.
- In particular, the study notes a decline in interest in Computer Science, which, despite a slight increase, remains a niche choice for students.
2. Impact of Early Exposure to Computer Science
- Students' choices in the upper secondary level regarding Computer Science are significantly influenced by whether the subject is taught and the number of hours dedicated to it in Sekundarstufe I (lower secondary level or VIth Form).
- The state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where Computer Science is a mandatory subject from grades 5 to 10, exhibits higher enrollment in Computer Science at upper secondary level compared to regions where it is not mandatory.
3. Gender Disparities in STEM Subject Choices Persist
- Gender stereotypes in subject choices persist, with girls favoring Biology, while Physics and Computer Science remain predominantly chosen by boys. Chemistry and Mathematics show more balanced gender ratios.
- Strategies to encourage girls in Physics and Computer Science involve making the subjects more attractive, contemporary, and gender-sensitive, particularly through teacher interventions.
4. Role of Competitions in Motivating Interest in STEM
- Participation in MINT (the German acronym for STEM) competitions proves to be effective in motivating students, with Science Olympiad participants more likely to pursue STEM studies in higher education, especially in engineering disciplines.
5. Challenges and Opportunities in Vocational Training and Dual Studies
- Despite a decline in the number of apprenticeships, STEM vocational training remains popular, especially among young men.
- Dual and three-track (combining academic studies with vocational training) programs are gaining in popularity, offering additional pathways for young adults, although women are underrepresented.
6. Decline in Aspiring STEM Teachers
- There is a notable decline in students opting for STEM teacher training programs, particularly in Computer Science.
- The demographic decline and a decrease in the number of students pursuing teaching careers in STEM subjects highlight the need for new approaches to address the shortage of STEM teachers.
7. International Student Interest in STEM Remains High
- While the number of domestic STEM students is decreasing, the study emphasizes the continued attractiveness of STEM fields, especially among international students.
Implications for companies and recommendations for action
Finance and insurance companies may face barriers to recruiting STEM graduates as interest in STEM declines in secondary school. Strategies to increase diversity, including gender balance, should be a priority for recruiters.
Initiatives such as STEM competitions can be used to identify and attract talented individuals. Companies should work with educational institutions to promote dual and triple-track study programmes that offer students a combination of academic knowledge and practical experience. Cooperation with schools and education authorities to introduce compulsory computer science courses for younger students also seems promising. Supporting STEM competitions and initiatives aimed at girls in high school can be an effective way to increase diversity in STEM fields.
Associations in Education
Associations play a crucial role, by teaching or organizing classes and linking students and educational institutions with professionals and their companies. The German Association of Actuaries (DAV), actupool’s parent company, for instance, works closely with organizations promoting vocational education and training such as the German Society for Insurance and Financial Mathematics (DGVFM). On a European level, the European Actuarial Academy (EAA), founded by the Actuarial Associations of Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands, strives to become the knowledge centre of European actuarial education and training. Companies can rely on the association’s strong national and international networks to intensify contact to young talents and professionals.