comment on this article

Closing the gender gap could take 258 years for physics and 60 years for mathematics

In the 'Year of Engineering', engineering skills are taking centre stage and the Skills Commission inquiry, which is co-chaired by Lucy Allan MP, Preet Gill MP and Professor Sandra McNally, is taking evidence as to why women are so badly under-represented within engineering courses, and whether upcoming skills system reforms will encourage more women to go into the profession.

Last month, the Provost of NMiTE, the new engineering university being created in Hereford, gave evidence to the commission and, according to Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, the imbalance between the number of male and female engineers is due to a misconception among teenagers as to what constitutes a professional engineer. As a result, many were rejecting engineering as a career.

She dismissed what she called the dogmatic insistence in the UK that, “all engineers must have A-Level Physics and Maths.”

While professional and competent engineers need to know when to use maths and what maths to use, she wondered whether A Levels were the only way of ensuring this.

“Too few female teenagers are inspired to take Maths and Physics A-Level, partly because they don’t see it leading to the sorts of careers they want,” according to the Professor.

A new report, from the Institute of Physics (IoP) Why Not Physics? - A Snapshot of Girls' Uptake at A-level, has found that only 1.9% of girls chose A-level Physics in 2016, compared with 6.5% of boys.

Even more shocking was that 44% of schools in England send no girls at all to study the subject.

So how do we close the gender gap when Britain has an estimated shortfall of 40,000 engineering graduates?

Without a serious and sustained intervention, the gender gap is likely to persist for generations. A lack of visibility also preserves the myth that Physics is “not a subject for girls.”

NMiTE plans a radical approach based on the success of the Olin engineering college in America, which consistently achieves a balanced intake of male and female students.

NMiTE’s is looking to attract a much broader intake of people, rather than only drawing from the limited pool of sixth-formers doing A-Level Maths in what is a very specialised syllabus.

Its approach can be summed up as “100% learning by doing: no lectures, no set textbooks, and no exams,” and creating a syllabus based on the real world needs of industry.

Olin has been cited as a role model, and while it is a relatively new college, it’s around 20 years old it has a growing reputation for engineering and the admission process is very competitive. In fact, a report from MIT said that Olin College was now among the leading institutions for teaching of engineering in the US.

Radical change is needed because the lack of girls studying Physics to a higher level will have real consequences for the UK economy, but not only that, the consequences of girls' choices at school mean that many are missing out on a rewarding and fulfilling career.

Bethan Grylls

Comment on this article

This material is protected by MA Business copyright See Terms and Conditions. One-off usage is permitted but bulk copying is not. For multiple copies contact the sales team.

What you think about this article:

Add your comments


Your comments/feedback may be edited prior to publishing. Not all entries will be published.
Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Related Articles

RISC-V partnership

Green Hills Software is to support NSITEXE’s RISC-V processors with the ISO ...

Electric dreams

With the Government announcing that EV charging points will be mandatory in all ...

CES 2022 Review

Some of the key trends, innovations and news from this year’s Consumer ...

Get to market faster

A quick look at using Vicor's PFM and AIM in VIA packaging for your AC to Point ...

A wake-up call

Will the conviction of Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of Theranos, lead to more ...

Takeover regulations

UK ministers now have greater powers to block foreign takeovers of British ...

Improving cancer care

Mirada Medical’s imaging technology is helping to accelerate cancer care by ...