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11th November 2013

Call for action as UK has the lowest number of female engineers in EU

A government review has highlighted the lack of women professional engineers

Business secretary Vince Cable and a government review have warned of the lack of female engineers in the UK.

Britain has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, with women making up just ten percent of the overall amount.

Even among Europe’s leading countries for female engineers – Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus – they only make up one third of the work force.

Speaking on this discrepancy, Cable told The Guardian newspaper “unless we break that psychological barrier we will have enormous problems for years to come.”

Cable spoke after the John Perkins review was commissioned by the government as part of last weeks ‘Tomorrows Engineers’ events.

One of its main focuses was the lack of female engineers across disciplines, including computer science and chemistry.

Over the last decade the number of women applying to places on engineering undergraduate courses has remained at just 15 to 16 per cent.

This trend appears to begin early, with women making up only 40 per cent of students studying Maths A-level, and only 30 per cent taking Further Maths.

Physics A-level remains the second most popular choice for boys in England, but ranks only 17th among girls.

Last year 49 per cent of state funded co-educational schools failed to enter a single female candidate for A-level Physics.

In his review, Professor John Perkins recommends a “high profile campaign reaching out to young people, particularly girls aged 11-14 years, with inspirational messages about engineering and diverse role models, to inspire them to become ‘Tomorrow’s Engineers.’”

He also says, “We support the National Centre for Universities and Business’ (NCUB) ambition to double the proportion of engineering degrees taken by women to 30% by 2030.

“The most important actions to achieve this are the measures to increase the number of young women leaving school with the right academic qualifications and to tackle gender-biased perceptions of engineering.”

Only 400 women began an engineering framework apprenticeship, as opposed to 12,880 men, in the 2011/2012 academic year in England. Less than one in 30 of those starting engineering apprenticeships were female in 2013.

The report also shows that three years after graduation 70 per cent of male engineering and technology graduates had begun working in those fields, while only 50 per cent of female graduates did the same.

Leah Thornber, third year Civil Engineer at the University of Manchester, told The Mancunion, “Engineering is very much a boy’s game. I feel vastly outnumbered as a woman studying engineering. Even when in high school studying physics and maths, I felt I was a minority.

“The issue is that in lower education there is not enough effort put in to encouraging more young women into science. It is perceived to be more “cool” to study art or music. Although these are important subjects, it means women are encouraged away from the sciences.

“It is not enough to make people aware of the lack of women in engineering. Young women need more role models who can encourage those talented enough into the field of engineering.”

The John Perkins review ends on a call to action, “We need to take action in both the short and the long term. We need to get the right messages to young people.

“We desperately need to ensure that girls have the opportunities to study STEM subjects [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] and don’t rule themselves out too early.”

The report continues, “It is time for concerted action by the profession, industry and Government, to achieve the goals for engineering which we all share.”

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