Students drop science and tech subjects as they’re ‘too difficult’

26 Apr 2017

The 2018 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition launches today. From left: Talha Moktar, Daisy Gavigan, Cara McCrystal and Finbar Guisti. Image: Fennell Photography

A bugbear of employers in STEM fields is a lack of available talent. According to a new study, it’s perception that’s the killer.

Four in 10 Irish students perceive science and technology as too difficult, hence why they drop the subjects in favour of others.

This has a knock-on effect on the state, producing too few people qualified for the modern working world, according to a new report from the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE).


One in three students surveyed had no interest in science or technology whatsoever and just 2pc could name one influential Irish person in the fields.

This indicates a gap in understanding of the potential careers available to students choosing science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM) subjects at second level – a simple fix, one would have thought.

For the study, 500 third-level students were questioned to gather information on what they studied and why.

Of those who have participated in BTYSTE, 77pc went on to study science and/or technology in third level, compared to just 10pc of those that had not taken part in the event.

Parental influence

35pc stated that their school and peers were the biggest influential factor in determining their interest in science or technology, nearly tripling the respondents who suggested that parents or guardians were the most influential (13pc).

The latter point is interesting as an Accenture study from earlier this year highlighted parental pressure as one of the reasons girls, in particular, drop STEM subjects in school.

However, BTYSTE’s report does find some correlation in the role of parents and the choices of students. 56pc of students currently studying science and/or technology at third level felt that their parents and teachers put focus on STEM while at secondary school, compared to only 32pc of other students.

According to a separate three-year study revealed last year, the ratio of male students to female students at secondary level is greater than 3:1 for physics, whereas biology has been found to have a ratio of 2:3.

“One key barrier in this regard arises from the fact that while parents are the main influencers when it comes to advising their daughters on how to define educational and career paths, they generally lack information about career options,” the report said.

Open for business

Today’s report comes as BTYSTE opens its call for 2018’s band of geniuses, following January’s record-breaking event where the organisers received more entries than ever before.

“Today’s research proves that initiatives like BTYSTE play an important role in cultivating an interest in science, maths, engineering and technology at the grassroots, but also highlights the need for schools to encourage their students to choose science or technology subjects at exam level to maintain that interest,” said Shay Walsh, MD of BT Ireland.

“For students, the future really does start here so I would encourage every student to consider getting involved in the BTYSTE to see for themselves how exciting and vast the world of science and technology can be.”

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic