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Nokia: Science skills gap is Europe-wide

The lack of young people taking up scientific careers can be found in Germany, England or any leading EU country, Nokia exec says.

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.