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HEIs urged to encourage women in STEM

In celebration of computer programming pioneer, Ada Lovelace, higher education institutions across the globe are being urged to offer support to and encourage more women to enrol science, math, engineering, or technology courses.

The percentage of STEM graduates who are women has dropped from 25% to 24%. Photo: Pixabay

Women represent just 14% of engineering graduates

According to research by Wise Campaign, the number of women graduating in core STEM subjects has grown from 22,020 in 2015-16 to 22,340 in 2016-17. However, due to more rapid growth in the number of men graduating in these subject areas, the percentage of STEM graduates who are women has dropped from 25% to 24%.

“Women… are low on numbers in the IT and engineering fields”

And for the third year in a row, the report showed that women represent just 14% of engineering graduates and the number of engineering graduates has fallen from 4,480 to 4,700.

In recognition of Ada Lovelace Day on October 9, the Open University’s centre for STEM pedagogy, eSTEeM, held a discussion panel on “inspiring women to achieve success in STEM”, that featured leading women from different areas of the computing and IT industry.

Senior lecturer in the Department of Computing and Communications at OU and director of eSTEeM, Clem Herman, told The PIE News that one of the top-level commitments they have is to increase the number of women in STEM, and in particular in computers and IT, and engineering courses.

“What we find is that women are quite well represented in biological sciences and chemistry, however, we are low on numbers in the technology and engineering fields. And that is right across the higher education sector and at the industry level.”

She explained that the OU has partnered with Equate in Scotland to provide a new integrated program for women returners, which includes “returnships”, which are similar to internships but have been developed to support people coming back after a career break.

To further help with their efforts, Herman explained that OU is offering a free ‘Returning to STEM‘ course, which is intended to help anyone who wants to get back into STEM work, demonstrate their commitment to their career and to provide evidence of continuing professional development.

“That has been running for a while and we have had a very good success rate of women going back into employment,” Herman added.

“We recognise that STEM occupations offer international careers and a lot of the women taking part in the programs either have had international work experience or have come to live in the UK from other countries and come with a history of STEM experience and skills.”

Herman told The PIE that higher education institutions can encourage more women around the world to enter STEM fields by focusing on making STEM curriculums and careers more attractive.

“One option we offer at OU is ‘open STEM labs’ so that students engaged in distance learning can take part in the same practical experiments as students in a ‘bricks and mortar’ classroom,” she said.

“Overall, I think more things can be done to ensure the content and the design of learning is appropriate and relevant to the skills that are needed in the workplace, so that is something that universities need to consider to ensure the courses remain attractive to more women around the globe.”

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