Female students start to show more interest in science and engineering

Survey shows increased number of female students are interested in studying Stem subjects beyond A-Level

female students stem subjects

The number of female students considering university courses in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects has seen a bigger increase over the last seven years than for male students, according to new research.

The survey, compiled by Cambridge Occupational Analysts (COA), is based on detailed analysis of answers to 150 questions by around 20,000 sixth formers each year for the last seven years.

The research is published amid concern over the gender imbalance in the study of Stem subjects and the make up of the science and industry workforce. It suggests that campaigns to boost young women’s enthusiasm for science and engineering may be working.

The survey shows that girls are beginning to respond positively to the message that they can perform as well as boys in Stem subjects and aim for rewarding careers in related professions, such as engineering. They were starting from a relatively low base, and women are still under-represented in these subjects areas. Nevertheless, these are promising signs. We can expect to see more young women graduating with Stem degrees in the coming years. We can only hope that firms will respond to this trend by ensuring there are attractive career opportunities for female, as well as male, Stem graduates. – Joyce Lane, joint director of COA

The percentage of female students expressing an interest in civil engineering rose by 10% over the last seven years, which is double the percentage rise of male pupils.

General engineering was considered as a possible choice by over a fifth of female respondents last year – a 16% increase compared with seven years ago. Over the same period, the proportion of boys expressing interest in the subject rose by just 5%.

Figures for combined sciences show a 19% rise in the proportion of female students expressing enthusiasm for the subject, compared to an 11% rise for male sixth formers. Young women’s interest in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering rose by 18% and 27% respectively, compared to 10% and 13% for male students.

Other Stem subjects where the level of interest increased more among young women than men include chemistry and biochemistry, which had a 2% difference.

Despite the findings, women are still under-represented at all levels in Stem subjects. Almost twice as many male students took maths A-level than women last year, while five times as many male sixth formers than women took physics.

At degree level, less than a quarter of maths undergraduates are women, while the figure for engineering is just 16%.

Earlier this month, a report by the Commons Science and Technology
warned that the UK risked a serious shortfall of workers to fill
vital jobs in science and industry if it did not increase the number of women in these areas.

The research also reveals a general move towards subjects that are perceived to help with job prospects. Among both genders, interest has grown in the combined sciences, biochemistry, maths and physics since 2006/07. The most popular subjects across all surveyed were psychology, management and marketing.

By contrast, sixth formers last year were less likely to express an interest in art and craft subjects, surveying, hospitality and institutional management and media.

Author: Abby Young-Powell


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