Brussels has been accused of social engineering over plans to impose a quota of women working on more than £10bn of science and engineering research scholarship programmes.
The move involves plans to reserve 40% of these jobs for women because of worries that they are underrepresented in these sectors.
But the proposals have already provoked controversy as political correctness looks set to come up against hard figures: only 18.7% of those in engineering in Europe are women, and the share of women in maths and computing is just 27.6%.
‘We’ve had mechanical engineering, we’ve had chemical engineering and now it looks like we’ve got social engineering,’ said Dr Trevor Evans, chief executive of the Institution of Chemical Engineers.
‘The ambition is right but it can’t work because there are not enough women in engineering, certainly not on the Continent,’ he added.
Peter Cotgreave, director of Save British Science, said a quota system could lead to claims ‘that a woman only got a place because of the quota, whether that was true or not’.
The 40% quota will apply to the Marie Curie research scholarships. It will also cover the Fifth Framework Programme for Research, which will run until 2002 on a budget of at least £10bn.