D. Elster

University of Bremen (GERMANY)
IRIS (Interests and Recruitment in Science) [1] is an European 7th framework project that focuses on the challenge that few young people in general, and women in particular, choose an education and career in science and technology. IRIS contributes to the improvement of recruitment, retention and gender equity patterns in higher education. To acquire information about the factors that influence the educational choice of young people, a questionnaire was developed by the IRIS consortium coordinated by the University of Oslo. Associated partners in the whole of Europe were invited to take part in the comparative questionnaire survey. This study will report on the experiences and findings of the survey conducted in the associated partner countries Austria and Germany. Additionally, qualitative interview data from Austrian biology students are enclosed [2].

The IRIS questionnaire was based on Eccles et al.’s model of achievement-related choices [3] and on Bandura’s theories on the role of self-efficacy beliefs [4]. These theories provide a framework to investigate the central aspects that influence an individual's educational choice.
The research questions focus on two constructs that directly influence achievement-related choices: The expectation of success and the subjective task value. According to Eccles at al. [3], personal identity (student’s self-concept) and social identity (how he or she sees himself or herself in social categories) influences the expectation of success and the subject task values. Therefore, a further research question deals with the connection between study choice and students´ identity.

The IRIS questionnaire was completed by science and technology students at the end of their first year of higher education (Germany: N=2336; Austria: N=1344).The findings allowed the identification of fostering and hindering factors for choice and retention. The experiences in secondary school were important when choosing a STEM study. “Good teachers” were identified as the key persons and “interest towards the subject” the key factor that influenced the study choice.

The implications for supporting first-year students and preventing drop out can be summarized as follows: High-school teachers have to be aware of the fact that students have to understand that STEM education is interesting and meaningful for their future. STEM education will be a possibility to realize their own potential. It is important to strengthen students’ self efficacy and to reduce the impact of perceived cost. Support is necessary in the form of social and academic integration and by creating opportunities for interaction between students and the teaching staff and by offering mentoring systems esp. for female students.

[1] [download November 10th, 2012)
[2] Mauk, V., Elster, D. (2011). Einflussfaktoren der Wahl naturwissenschaftlicher Studiengänge. In: Didaktik der Biologie. Standortbestimmung und Perspektiven. Bayreuth: Universität Bayreuth.
[3] Eccles, J., Barber, B., Jozefowicz, D. (1999). Linking gender to educational, occupational, and recreational choices: Applying the Eccles et al. model of achievement-related choices. In W. Langlois & L.A. Gilbert (Eds.), Sexism and stereotypes in modern society (pp. 153-192). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
[4] Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: the exercise of control. New York: Freeman.