From gendered depictions of scientific careers to a lack of female representation at top-tier level for engineering roles, the world of STEM can still seem to be a boys’ club from the outside looking in. However, stats are suggesting that a seismic shift may be on its way, with results showing for the first time ever that more women than men have studied sciences for A-Levels. Determined to push this further and keep the ball rolling, top distance learning provider, Oxbridge, is leading the charge for women studying maths, revealing figures significantly higher than the national average.

Despite female students outperforming their male counterparts for the top grades, analysis has shown that the percentage of maths A-Levels being awarded to women has declined year-on-year. On the contrary to this, Oxbridge has seen significantly more female students enrol on its maths courses for the previous three years, with 60% of women compared to the national average of 39% in 2017.  

Looking at why this might be, Matt Jones, Director of Oxbridge comments:

Social pressures like male dominance and low confidence are responsible for female students opting for alternative courses or learning options. The gender gap in maths isn’t because women don’t find it interesting… instead, a major factor is confidence. We’ve found that women view STEM subjects as male-dominated classes, and as such they are reluctant to enrol in classes, on account of feeling like they won’t be welcomed, supported, or given the same opportunities.

A recent study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies argues that confidence seems to be a huge barrier to women and girls looking to pursue maths further. The worry of being the ‘only girl in the class’ is an important determinant of gender differences in attainment in STEM subjects and the decision to pursue STEM careers.

As a result, the education sector is seeing a surge in women opting to study STEM subjects with distance learning providers like Oxbridge, because we offer the flexibility to study in a comfortable environment and set your own pace. We have seen a rise in women studying STEM subjects over the last three years, and we think the trend is set to continue for us. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the sector needs to work together to change the perception that STEM subjects are intimidating. We need to give women access to role models, secure environments and work to abolish the feeling of inferiority; this is how we continue to bridge the gender gap,” Matt continues.

He adds “There is a growing range of campaigns and projects designed to ignite passion for STEM among girls and young women. In the UK, the benefits of this drive to attract more women into these subjects are being felt but is important to remember that women from disadvantaged backgrounds, women of colour, and women who lack academic certification are still hugely underrepresented in the STEM field. The STEM education sector needs to think more creatively in order to be inclusive to all women; there is still a lot of work to be done.”

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