|Home > Special Insight Reports > Women in IT, a key-challenge for public-private partnerships in Europe as MST students decline|
In Europe only 22% of students aged 20 to 24 study MTS subjects (which include life and physical sciences, mathematics and statistics, computing, engineering and engineering trades, manufacturing and processing, architecture and building), and only 30% of them are women. Although the benchmark used in the Lisbon strategy has already been met and the overall number of MST students has already increased by 16.4% during 2000-2005, the imbalance between men and women has not really changed (-1%). Though, 55% of the overall number of students in higher education are women.
Another interesting aspect is the huge difference in female ratio according to the various MST sectors: in engineering and engineering trades only 19% are women, in computing 24% and in architecture and building 35%. On the other hand, women are 61% in life sciences while in maths they are in perfect balance with about 50%.
The gender gap affects also the labour market, even if at a superficial sight figures seem balanced as the Eurostat report on “Women employed in science and technology” (10/2008) shows. However, at a closer look data depict a different reality: in the research field, the higher the hierarchical level in terms of function and career, the smaller the proportion of women, especially in industry. For example, only 14% of professors are women. Moreover, according to the SheFigures 2006 study, only 15% of women have senior academic positions although they account for over 50% of the academic population and get 43% of PhD-level degrees.
Several initiatives and plans have already been put in place over the last 10 years, such as the European Commission’s Women in Science conference in 1998, the Helsinki Group and Action Plan on Women and Science in 1999, the Science and Society Plan in 2001, the MST Cluster set up by DG Education and Culture. Networks and platform have also been developed: the International Task Force on Women and ICTs, Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (WITEC), and the European Platform of Women Scientists (EPWS).
Reference reports have been produced as well, such as the ETAN Report (2000), the Women in Industrial Research Report (2003), the ENWISE Report (2004), the Women in Science and Technology Report and the SheFigures Report (2006), the Rocard Report on Science Education (2008), the Relevance of Science Education (ROSE) study, the “For the teaching and learning of mathematics in Europe – industrial initiative proposals” report (2007), the Science Education in Europe report by the Nuffield Foundation.
And, last but not least, the European Parliament resolution on the Role of Women in industry (January 2008) calling on the EU member states and the Commission “to develop and implement strategies to address discrepancies in the work environment and the career development of women working in science and technology”.
Though, so far no major action plan or consistent strategy has been developed at EU level, excepting a few projects supported by DG Research’s Science and Society Programme and DG Education and Culture Lifelong Learning Programme. At the same time, several relevant stakeholders such as European education ministries through European Schoolnet, and industry through Corporate Social Responsibility Europe, e-Skills Industry Leadership Board and the European Roundtable of Industrialists, have raised discussion and started developing initiatives mainly based on public-private partnerships.
The most relevant examples are:
- the e-Skills Career Portal, involving the e-Skills Industrial Leadership Board (gathering companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, CompTIA, ECDL Foundation and Siemens) and ministries of education under the European Schoolnet label;
- companies working closely with public authorities at national level in order to set up initiatives strengthening MST teaching in formal education systems (e.g. the cooperation between Volvo and the Swedish Ministry of Education) via the European Round Table of Industrialists, which has also started debating with European Schoolnet to develop a European coordination system for such initiatives;
- the idea of carrying out a study on perceptions of careers in IT, with a focus on network and network security careers, to be developed by the Women’s Forum, Cisco and European Schoolnet.
The advantages of these public-private partnerships are the following:
- the development of cooperation between schools and industry, promoting IT occupations and counteracting inaccurate perceptions rooted in young generations;
- access to industrial facilities (e.g. laboratories), making possible interesting learning experiences for pupils;
- the possibility to introduce joint learning activities, such as mentoring schemes and field in-service teacher training;
- the possibility to develop extra-curricular activities (e.g. IT-night in Denmark and The Engineers Go Back to School initiative in some countries).
Another challenge: updating teaching profession in MST
Another key-challenge in order to lead the change in MST trends concerns the teaching profession, where new methodological approaches in science and technology teaching should be developed and implemented. In fact the challenge is double: about 1 million new teachers will have to be recruited between now and 2015, and these future teachers require adequate training to meet the knowledge-based society standards.Priorities and proposals
In view of all the mentioned key-points, European Schoolnet appeals to European and national decision-makers and proposes to launch a debate focusing on the following three priorities:
- development of an initiative involving the main European Commission departments (DG Education and Culture, DG Research, DG Enterprise, DG Information Society and Media) to develop pilot actions and innovative schemes on science and technology occupations and careers;
- development of new indicators and methods to better comprehend the situation regarding MST in upper secondary education, helping in providing more detailed analysis of the continuum between guidance in terms of subject choices in upper secondary education, in higher education and the employment situation of young graduates;
- planning of specific actions to give future MST teachers all the tools, methods and approaches the need in order to teach these subjects in the best possible conditions, and thereby to foster new vocations and augment interest in this field and related careers.
- The full report “Women in IT. The European situation and the role of public-private partnerships in promoting greater participation of young women in technology” by M. Durando, P. Wastiau and A. Joyce is available in the Insight Library at:
- “Inspiring the next generation: how to harness the potential of MST to drive innovation and competitiveness in Europe” conference
- Women in IT session:
- Women in IT: Italian girls more active than boys in Web 2.0
- e-Skills Career Portal:
- European Round Table of Industrialists
- Women’s Forum
Last changed: Wednesday, 25 March 2009