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The huge ground that some European countries have to make up to achieve a gender balance in those graduating from science subjects has been starkly illustrated in a newly published set of figures.
According to the data from the European Union’s statistics agency, Eurostat, while 58 per cent of all graduates across the bloc are women, male graduates in science, mathematics, computing, engineering, manufacturing and construction outnumber their female counterparts by nearly two to one.
The difference is also notably more marked in some of the most developed higher education systems across the continent.
In Germany and the Netherlands, for instance, well over twice as many men as women are graduating in such disciplines.
Thomas Jørgensen, senior policy coordinator at the European University Association, said that the figures were worrying, especially in terms of subjects that were likely to have an increasing impact on society, such as computer science.
“You consistently have more women than men going into higher education, but in certain very key disciplines that is just not the case,” said Dr Jørgensen, who is currently involved in a project at the EUA looking at ways to support universities in improving diversity.
“If you look at the whole digital transformation that is going on across society, this is an issue. When you think about people who develop anything related to artificial intelligence, they tend to be men.”
Intriguingly, some of the countries with the smallest gender gaps in the subjects were in eastern Europe, with Romania and Poland both having graduation rates that were much closer to parity, although still with more men than women.
Dr Jørgensen said that it was also interesting that such countries also sometimes had higher proportions of female professors in universities. However, he said that it was difficult to pinpoint exactly why the gap in the STEM graduation rate seemed to be narrower in the east.
“I don’t think you can find a historical explanation or that these countries are more [gender equal] in general,” he said, adding that generally the “smoking gun” for the gender gap in STEM was still proving elusive.
“If we had the smoking gun then everything could be resolved in terms of the bottlenecks you have in research,” he said.
Other figures in the Eurostat update on tertiary education show that for social sciences, journalism, business, administration and law, women made up just over 60 per cent of graduates.
Meanwhile, this rose to about two-thirds for the arts and humanities, almost three-quarters for health and welfare and more than 80 per cent for education.