The State of STEM Today: What Role Can Universities Play?

STEM fields are under increasing scrutiny as gender equality continues to elude these popular, essential sectors.

The science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (otherwise known as STEM) fields have been under an intense microscope (pun intended) for a while now, and there’s no signs of this pressure abating.

Calls for more diversity and gender equality throughout these sectors have come from industry experts, higher education institutions, and governments around the world.

So, what is the current state of STEM today?

STEM: The statistics

According to HESA data, the number of global student enrollments in STEM in the 2017-2018 academic year was significant with 1,080,590 students studying science, which can be broken down into 233,970 studying biological sciences, 164,975 studying engineering and technology, 107,250 studying computer science, 95,720 studying physical sciences, and 44,575 studying mathematical sciences.

When examining these subjects based on gender, we can see a clear divide:

  • Biological sciences: Male students (36%), female students (64%)
  • Engineering and technology: Male students (82%), female students (18%)
  • Computer science: Male students (83%), female students (17%)
  • Physical sciences: Male students (57%), female students (43%)
  • Mathematical sciences: Male students (63%), female students (37%)

With the exception of biological sciences, male students consistently and overwhelmingly outnumber female students.

This aligns with employment figures which show that male professionals also outnumber female professionals in STEM workforces.

In the US in 2017, women made up 26% of computer and mathematical occupations and 16% of architecture and engineering occupations.

Additionally, women accounted for 19% of software developers, 9% of aerospace engineers, and 4% of computer network architects.

As of 2018, 900,000 women work in core STEM occupations across the UK, an impressive increase of 44,040 since 2017.

However, there was still a 0.3% drop in the percentage of women in the UK STEM workforce due to an additional 200,000 men entering STEM fields.

Interestingly, a 2018 article from The Atlantic identified a compelling pattern where countries with less gender equality saw higher rates of women in STEM.

For example, in Algeria, where employment discrimination against women is often reported, 41% of STEM graduates were female. Conversely, only 18% of US computer science graduates are women.

A referenced Psychological Science paper suggests that this pattern is due to women in countries with greater gender inequality choosing degrees and career paths that will lead to the greatest financial freedom, which often means a career in one of the lucrative and ever-growing STEM fields.

Given these figures, what can universities do to nurture these fields and encourage greater gender diversity?

STEM: The role of universities

Universities have an important role to play in encouraging female students to enroll in STEM subjects, continue in their STEM studies, and prepare them for the STEM workforce.

A simple step that universities can take is to promote the number of female STEM students at their university and communicate the range of benefits available to them.

These marketing messages should be sent to both prospective female students and existing female students, extolling the benefits of a STEM education and career and showcasing renowned female STEM alumni as inspiration.

Universities can also include information on the global social impact of STEM in marketing messages and communications to their prospective and current female STEM students. This highlights the urgency and importance of a career in STEM, and the opportunities it could bring.

Beyond marketing and communications, universities can also take a strategic and long-term planning approach to STEM gender equality.

Take a look at your STEM courses and syllabuses and analyze how much they encourage women to participate and contribute.

Conduct a gender audit with focus groups, surveys, and student attendance and participation data to determine how female STEM students are feeling about the university, its teaching, and any patterns of exclusion.

When it comes to recruitment, attend STEM events and talk to female prospective students about why they’re interested in a career in STEM, the obstacles they foresee, and how your university can help them overcome them.

To learn more about QS STEM Events and what your university can do to address gender inequality in STEM, contact us today.

2019-07-15T08:09:16+01:00

About the Author:

As the B2B Content Marketing Manager, Sarah Linney is responsible for communicating the insights, research, and market analysis that have positioned QS as a thought leader in the higher education sector. After completing a Communications-Journalism degree at Charles Sturt University in Australia, Sarah worked in radio news and B2B print publishing before joining the content marketing sector. While working at a content marketing agency, Sarah was transferred to their New York office. She then led content marketing efforts at two tech startups in New York as a Content Manager before deciding to make the move to the UK and QS. 

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