Higher education is the best way to sort out the skills gap crippling STEM industries in Europe, but how can we get enough people, from enough backgrounds, through the process?

A panel of experts recently sat down to discuss higher education and its role in the STEM industry. Funnelling a diverse range of graduates through the system requires targets, plans and action.

At Inspirefest 2016, Ann O’Dea, founder of the event and Silicon Republic CEO, was joined by Prof Christine Loscher, research director of DCU, Prof Mark Ferguson, director general of SFI, and Alex Bernadotte, founder of Beyond 12, to discuss ways to address the problem.

The number one criteria for children choosing a career is not money, said Ferguson, but rather, whether or not they will fit in. Number two is the parents, and number three is the parents wondering if their children will fit in.

In a survey Ferguson worked on, 97pc of those asked knew that a degree in science would lead to a job and good pay, but that is not what they were interested in.

“So then you think about role models, stereotypes or underrepresentation. It’s not surprising if your mental mindset is ‘will my child fit in here?’, it’s really important to address that.”

And it’s not all about gender diversity, something that often takes up the primary ‘diversity’ discussion.

“The interesting thing that happens when we think about the intersection of race and gender is you do see an uptick of females taking advantage of our programmes,” said Bernadotte, founder of Beyond 12, noting ethnicity as another area of concern.

“There are lots of incentives in higher education for ensuring that we have equal representation of women. We’re now thinking about similar incentives to address other groups.”

Words by Gordon Hunt