Around 115,000 more girls would need to study A-levels in maths or physics, or both, to reach equal numbers of male and female students studying engineering and technology degrees, a report has found.
Just 8% of first-year undergraduate women who had studied maths and/or physics at A-level went on to study engineering and technology degrees, compared to 23% of first-year undergraduate men who had studied at least one of the subjects at A-level, an analysis by charity EngineeringUK suggests.
With the current conversion rate from A-level to undergraduate study, around 150,000 girls would need to study A-levels in one or both subjects to reach the same number of women studying engineering and technology as men – which represents an increase of around 115,000 girls, the report suggests.
The analysis, which is based on Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) data of UK first-year undergraduate students during the 2020/21 academic year, found that only 18% of students on engineering and technology degrees were female, compared to 57% for all subjects combined.
The report – which highlights that the prerequisite for many degrees in engineering and technology is an A-level in both maths and physics – questions whether this entry requirement needs to continue.
Of the first-year undergraduates in engineering and technology who had studied both subjects at A-level, just 22% were women, the analysis found.
It says: “Understandably there are some degrees where the prior knowledge is required, but in order to address the gender imbalance on engineering and technology courses, perhaps some further thought needs to be taken in relation to making it more accessible to a wider range of applicants.”
Dr Claudia Mollidor, head of research and evaluation at EngineeringUK, said: “The gender disparity within undergraduate degrees in engineering and technology is really concerning.
“Given that A-levels in maths and physics are often a prerequisite for such degrees, we need to do more to make sure these subjects are attractive and accessible to girls at school. Particularly given we know girls perform as well as boys, or even outperform them, in these subjects.”
She added: “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 into engineering-related careers.
“The first step to addressing this is to increase girls’ interest and engagement with science and maths at school.”