Sunday, 21 September 2014
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Last week's poll: special grants for women

Brunel University is to give grants of £1,250 a month to 40 women on postgraduate engineering courses in a bid to redress the under-representation of women in the profession. Is this a positive move toward narrowing the skills gap in engineering?

We had an overall thumbs-down for Brunel University’s special £1250-per-month grants to women on postgraduate engineering courses, with slightly over sixty per cent saying that positive discrimination such as this ultimately works against the concept of gender equality. Only 15 per cent said that it was a good idea which should be taken up by other institutions, while 24 per cent said that, while 49 per cent of schools did little to tackle the perceived gender bias of maths and physics, such moves would amount to little.

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Readers' comments (8)

Let us know what you think about this subject

  • Each student should stand or fall on their own merits and ability. 25 years ago I had a recent female graduate use the sex discrimination act to 'win' a job over my experience, then within 3 weeks she went sick because she couldn't cope with the reality of being an international service engineer... Any form of discrimination should be unacceptable, as should be abusing the various discrimination acts. As a white, male, christian, heterosexual trades unionist I seen too many non-discriminatory individuals discriminated against.

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  • Discrimination is discrimination whatever form it takes. Ability to do the job should be the only way a person is selected.
    There are too many cases where the wrong person is in the job because of factors outside the ability to do the job, and as such have distroyed the business.

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  • How ridiculous, to solve a perceived gender issue with a measure that is outrageously gender discrimination. The people with the power to make these decisions should know better. Attracting women into engineering has to be done at school and company level and we have to employ the best person for the job – gender should not come into it. Unfortunately this does not always happen due to other incompatible goals.

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  • You should help, ONLY, women engineers with children.

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  • A few years ago, the perception that the nature of the medical profession was one of it being male dominated led many to propose that more women ought to become doctors. That profession is now entirely female-dominated with 60% of most annual intakes of medical students being female, simply as a consequence of an unapologetic policy of discriminating against white males to create a profession that was more balanced. It has now gone on for so long that it has actually swung the other way and it is the reason why this country is importing doctors from India and elsewhere, because so many of these women then want to fit their career choice around having a family, by cutting back on the hours that they elect to work.

    I had no one help me go to medical school so I couldn't, I have similarly had no one helping me study engineering, in the form of so much as helping me find a competent mathematics teacher, let alone paying me to do it in postgraduate setting

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  • The majority of Lamborghini drivers have either brown or blonde hair. This clearly shows there are not enough ginger haired people driving them. Can I have a grant to buy one please? Just to even things out a bit of course.

    Lunacy!

    I'm getting sick and tired of the 'women in engineering' conversations. PEOPLE go into engineering if they decide they want to, PEOPLE succeed in engineering if they are good at it. SIMPLE.

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  • Avoiding, for now, the dubious merits and morality of discrimination (whether or not the post-grad has children), I would like to know where the resource is to come from, and if it will be a further tax on undergraduate revenue.

    I know there are departments where revenue deriving from undergraduate fees is used to pay for research that is incapable of raising its own industrial, or research council funding.

    Do the maths! An undergraduate engineer may be taught for perhaps 16 hours/week, which coincidentally is the normal commitment (before research and admin allowances) for an academic. Students are taught in lectures of 100+, and seminar groups of say 16 to 20. Typical academic/student rations are about 18 to 1 - hence each academic employment cost, including salary, is underpinned by say 18 students, each paying £9000.

    I had the task of justifying, and subsequently rationalizing the undergraduate provision of an engineering academic departmemnt, based on such a model, although not as simplistically presented.

    The immediate need is to encourage student engagement, at the preformation and undergraduate levels. This can and does increase the proportion of women eligible to follow careers in engineering.

    We should not be expecting undergraduate engineering students to fund the career development of post-graduates.

    I would go further and argue that if there is spare resource, it should be used to reduce the burden on undergraduate engineers, who generally have less opportunity to take a supplementary job, in term time, than most other disciplines.

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  • Positive and Negative Discrimination is equally bad and should be illegal. Jobs, courses and grants should all be on merit and not based on discrimination

    I dont know where 'anonymous' gets his figures from - When I was an undergraduate Metallurgist in the 1970's I had 24 hours of subject lectures and 16 hours of laboratory work in a week + 2 hours of mandatory Science German on Saturday with the option 2 hours of Science Russian as well on Saturday.

    There was about 30 students in my year (usually far fewer) studying 3 degree options - there were 9 of us specialising in Chemical Metallurgy and as such we shared 'core' subjects and lectures as well as having our own speciality subjects.

    The standard tutor group was 3 students and my tutor group was also my laboratory Group.

    Laboratory work comprised a series of projects undertaken in rota giving 1 Lecturer and 1 Post Graduate Demonstrator for each project supervising one group of 3 students at a time.

    My recollection of my course was intensive and enjoyable study with excellent academic support both inside and outside the classroom. I also recall being lucky to be teamed up in my Tutorial and Laboratory group with 2 excellent students because that maximised our experience.

    Perhaps I was lucky to sit for a degree in a university department with excellent academic staff. However the timetabled hours were the same for all my Hall of Residence friends studying in the Science and Applied Science Faculties - None of us complained about the hours at college or the support hours outside as we were there to work and knew what was required before we put our UCCA forms in.

    Ironically the people who winged about work levels where the arts students, especially the English undergraduates with 4 or 5 hours of lectures a week and an essay every other week.

    But seriously though - Universities charging £9000 to students in fees have to justify the fees in the added value their institution gives their students or increasing numbers of students will rightly sue them for breach of contract!

    One anecdotal story I heard about modern Universities 'Dash for Cash' with regard to the £9000 fees they charge is departments doubling pupils by splitting their course in 2 generate twice the fees for the same academic support divided between 2 degrees with half the content.

    In my day at University it was the 'Numbers Game' in which universities took in people they knew werent capable of getting a degree to get the government money for their study into the university. It was highly immoral and when a new vice chancellor at my university tried to implement it, it was rejected as immoral by the Applied Science Faculty because once entered the game meant:-

    1) Devaluing the degrees offered by awarding degrees to all

    or;

    2) Ruining the lives of students know to be incapable of getting a degree when they entered by failing them to maintain academic standards

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