Girls needed at A level to close engineering degree gender gap

Big uptick in female enrolment in final years of school needed to improve higher education representation unless conversion rate improves, or courses are made optional

February 14, 2023
Source: iStock

At least 100,000 more girls need to study mathematics or physics at A level in the UK than they do now for engineering and technology degrees to reach gender equality, according to new research.

The EngineeringUK report also suggests that A-level maths and physics could no longer be required for such courses to help address their gender imbalances.

The charity examined Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) data which shows 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 UK higher education in 2020-21.

This was compared with just 8 per cent of female students, meaning they make up less than a fifth of those studying engineering and technology.

To achieve gender parity, EngineeringUK say the number of girls studying maths or physics needs to increase from about 35,000 to 150,000, provided the conversion rate stays the same.

Claudia Mollidor, head of research and evaluation at EngineeringUK, said the gender gap was “really concerning”, and that more needs to be done to make maths and physics A levels “attractive and accessible to girls at school”.

“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,” she added.

While prior knowledge is essential for some degrees, the report noted that “perhaps some further thought needs to be taken” to make engineering and technology courses more accessible to all.

The gender gap in education eventually contributes to one within the industry itself, with women comprising just 16.5 per cent of the engineering workforce.

“With the UK challenged to meet net zero by 2050, there is an urgent need for more young people to enter into engineering and technology careers,” said Dr Mollidor.

“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 engineering-related careers.

“The first step to addressing this is to increase girls’ interest and engagement with science and maths at school.”

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Reader's comments (1)

I thought it was well known that men and women's interests are different, though with a lot of cross-over - men being on average more thing-oriented and women more people-oriented, for example. Hence they should be allowed to cultivate careers that correspond to their interests in order to have fulfilling lives, rather than have equality forced on them.