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Photonics roadmap highlights education needs

Photonics needs to become a ‘pervasive discipline at all levels of education and professional training’ to meet Europe’s social, economic and environmental challenges, according to a new report handed over to the European Commission last week.

The 'Photonics21 Multiannual Strategic Roadmap 2021–2027', created in preparation of the new EU funding programme, Horizon Europe, outlines factors hindering the potential of photonics. While the global photonics market has reached €600 billion, Photonics21 estimates that only 20 per cent of the potential power and benefits of light technologies have been unlocked.

More than than 1,700 photonics organisations were consulted to produce the report, which was handed over to the European Commission during the Photonic21’s photonics public private partnership (PPP) annual meeting, which took place in Brussels on 27-29 March.

Advancing areas like disease diagnosis, environment conservation and urban management relies on defining the skills required for the future photonics workforce and delivering the appropriate education and training, as well as maintaining strong academia-industry links to ensure the rapid commercialisation of innovations.

‘An important area for the future of photonics is the education and training of the next generation of professionals,’ the report stated. ‘They will need to be provided with the necessary skills to successfully and innovatively exploit the great potentials that photonics technologies have to offer.'

Innovative approaches will be needed to attract students towards STEM disciplines and photonics studies, it was noted, and academic and vocational training in photonics must be a priority both in STEM curricula and in other subject fields, with educational and training material continuously upgraded and disseminated.

The report highlighted that digital skills should be part of all photonics programmes, and that entrepreneurial and innovation mindsets should be stimulated to maximise the impact of newly discovered technologies.

Moreover, the mobility of students and those working in the sector should be encouraged, since the required skill set is often highly specialised, with educational and industrial needs not often aligned geographically.

‘To enable this in a sustainable way, it is necessary to establish a pan-European network of institutions devoted explicitly to photonics outreach to all areas of society, including students, citizens and industry,’ the roadmap said.

To ensure research supports industry needs, lifelong learning programmes should be set-up by academia to target industry needs, mainly in the case of SMEs, ‘since they often lack internal resources for training.’ In addition, photonics programmes should target companies that are non-specialists but that could benefit from the uptake of photonics technologies.

The report also highlighted the need for research to be directed towards applications to make sure innovations get out of the lab and benefit society.

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