By Annette France, Chair of Governors of the Cheshire Free School
Why do you promote the sciences so strongly?
This is a question I regularly faced as a headteacher, and it is true that I have long been passionate about the STEM subjects. I have three principal reasons for promoting these subjects so vigorously which cover many people’s motivations:
1. Solving the major problems for the future:
With the greatest respect to all the other professions, it is only those with scientific, engineering and technological skills who will help to solve the biggest problems which face our world in the future. For example: cures for major medical problems, including more-effective antibiotics; alternative and cleaner fuel sources; innovative approaches to design and manufacturing……..
2. Promoting women and their achievements:
The WES (Women’s Engineering Society) website www.wes.org.uk is very clear about the discrepancy in numbers of women in engineering in particular (Figures obtained from a variety of sources and updated January 2016). Many of the statistics quote on this site are very positive and should be encouraging to female students eg in a survey of 300 female engineers, 84% were either happy or extremely happy with their career choice and engineering students are second only to medics in securing full-time jobs and earning good salaries – more of this below.
There are very positive signs such as the very small gender difference in uptake in STEM subjects at GCSE, but only 20% of Physics A Level students are girls, a situation which has not changed in the last 25 years, and the proportion of women studying engineering and physics has remained unchanged since 2012.
There is evidence, from 2015, that companies which are gender diverse are 15% more likely to perform better: http://www.Mckinsey.com/insights/organization/why_diversity_matters. In a global survey (Forbes) diversity was identified as crucial for innovation.
Disappointingly, the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, at less than 10%, while Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus lead with 30%.
The Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics publication ‘The Talent Pipeline from Classroom to Boardroom’, 2014 identifies the 10 steps for organisations to attract and retain more women in STEM.
3. Financial incentives:
If altruism does not motivate you, then these financial rewards statistics might.
www.university.which.co.uk reported in April 2015 on the top 10 degree subjects for graduate starting salaries and they all were STEM-related. The top ten in order are: Dentistry; Chemical, Process and Energy Engineering; Medicine; Marine Technology; Operational Research (Maths); Mechanical Engineering; Economics; Aerospace Engineering; Veterinary Medicine and Dentistry and Statistics.
The 7th position of Economics might seem not to fit with the STEM agenda, but Maths A Level is usually required for university entrance to these course.
Does anyone need further convincing?