EngineeringUK report reveals efforts needed to address gender gap

A report by EngineeringUK has revealed that an increase of around 115,000 girls studying maths or physics A levels would be required to equal the number of male engineering and technology undergraduates.

With the current conversion rate from A Level to undergraduate study, around 150,000 girls would need to study A levels in maths or physics (or both), a significant increase compared to current numbers.

The report, which follows International Day of Women and Girls in Science, reveals that 23 per cent of male students who studied A levels in maths or physics, or both, went on to study engineering and technology in higher education. However, just eight per cent of female students who took the same subjects went on to study engineering and technology degrees.

This translates to a stark gender divide, with only 18 per cent of those studying undergraduate degrees in engineering and technology being female, compared to 57 per cent for all degree subjects combined.

Dr Claudia Mollidor, head of research and evaluation at EngineeringUK, said that the gender disparity is ‘really concerning’.

“Given that A levels in maths and physics are often a prerequisite for such degrees, we need to do more to make sure these subjects are attractive and accessible to girls at school,” Mollidor said.

“Particularly given we know girls perform as well as boys, or even outperform them, in these subjects. Cultivating this interest and appetite at an early stage will be crucial, so that when it comes to selecting GCSEs and A levels, girls are informed and inspired to choose subjects that will allow them to progress into engineering and tech careers.”

The report, which is based on Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data, reveals that of the first-year undergraduates in engineering and technology who had studied both maths and physics at A level, only 22 per cent were female students.

However, when looking at these subjects separately, the figures jump to 50 per cent of students having taken maths only and 31 per cent physics only. This highlights the importance of continuing to move away from the preferred prerequisites for these courses being A levels in both subjects and widening the entry qualifications accepted to address gender imbalances, EngineeringUK said.

Mollidor pointed out that in line with the net zero challenge, there is an urgent need for more young people to enter engineering and technology careers, but that just 16.5 per cent of the current engineering workforce is female.

“It’s clear the UK will struggle to get on top of its acute skills shortage, if it fails to increase the number of women entering into engineering-related careers. The first step to addressing this is to increase girls’ interest and engagement with science and maths at school,” she concluded.

More encouragingly, for students with A levels in both maths and physics, engineering and technology is the top higher education study subject of choice. However, there is still a gender imbalance here with 39 per cent of male students choosing the subject versus 29 per cent of female students.