Universities get creative to even out subject gender imbalance

May 3, 2016 by

Some universities are dropping the need for maths and physics A-level to get more women into engineering and science

When Helen Atkinson addresses a typical lecture hall of 170 engineering students, it is likely that fewer than 25 of them will be female. Elsewhere in the same university, her colleagues in psychology will face a similar sea of faces dominated by one gender – except this time the exceptions will be male.

Atkinson, head of the department of engineering at the University of Leicester and chair of the education and skills committee at the Royal Academy of Engineering, says nationally the proportion of women studying engineering has been creeping up – but only creeping – from about 12% in 2008 to 15% in 2015.

In other subjects the balance is just as skewed. Latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show nearly 80% of those studying nursing and other subjects allied to medicine are women, while 83% of computer science students are men. In teaching, more than 76% of students are women, but in architecture, men dominate.

There have been many attempts to try to redress such imbalances but they have tended to be one-off initiatives, says Ellen Pugh, policy adviser at the Equality Challenge Unit. But, she says, research by the Higher Education Academy, to be published this month, has identified the need for a longer term, more wide-ranging approach.

In this, Scotland is leading the way. The Scottish Funding Council commissioned the HEA research and, also this month, will produce its final gender action plan on addressing gender imbalances at subject level. Its interim plan, published in February, promised to “outline the case for positive action; detail how it can be effectively implemented and encourage its use across the sectors”.

Source: Universities get creative to even out subject gender imbalance | Education | The Guardian

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