Science degrees not appealing to girls despite rise in A-level take-up

Stem subjects are still not as popular with girls when choosing university courses

Eleanor Busby

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Girls are still not as interested in studying sciences at university as boys despite a rise in popularity of Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects at A level, a new study has found.

Computer science, mechanical engineering, maths, medicine and physics all make it into the top ten preferences for boys – but only medicine and maths make it into the most popular courses for girls.  

The study, of more than 100,000 sixth-formers, has found that they were more interested in subjects like geography, English and criminology than their male peers.

The data from Unifrog – a destinations platform used by schools to help students decide what they want to do next – has been released on the application deadline day for most degree courses.

Girls may not be as keen to study sciences at university as boys – and yet the numbers of female students taking Stem subjects at A level is rising.    

Last year, for example, the number of females taking computing at A level increased by 34 per cent. 

And girls still receive more of the top GCSE grades in the majority of subjects, apart from maths, physics, economics and statistics. 

Alex Kelly, co-founder of Unifrog, said: “It’s disappointing that more female sixth-formers aren’t considering a degree in the sciences, even though they do just as well as, if not slightly better, than boys in most subjects at GCSE.”

Slightly more boys (46 per cent) than girls (43 per cent) will apply to a Russell Group university this year, according to the analysis from the online tool Unifrog.  

And the study predicts that 63 per cent of independent school students will apply to at least one of the UK’s 24 leading universities, compared to 40 per cent of state school students.  

The research has found that the most influential factors in choosing a university for sixth-formers are league table rankings, average starting salaries after graduation and graduate job opportunities.

Mr Kelly said: “Students have to consider a huge number of factors before submitting their Ucas application and things can appear pretty overwhelming at times. Our data shows just how important league table rankings are when people make decisions.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The latest figures show the proportion of women enrolling in science subjects at university has increased. This builds on growing ‎numbers of girls taking STEM subjects at A level - up 17 per cent since 2010.

“We are investing significantly to ensure we have the skilled workers we need to build a Britain that's fit for the future - a diverse STEM workforce is part of this.

"That's why we are taking targeted action to improve gender participation, particularly in schools, and therefore hope to see these figures continue to improve as these students progress through the education system.”

Most popular subjects for boys

1. Economics

2. Law

3. Medicine

4. Computer science

5. Maths

6. History

7. Accounting and finance

8. Mechanical engineering

9. Psychology

10. Physics

Most popular courses for girls

1. Psychology

2. Law

3. Medicine

4. History

5. Geography

6. Criminology

7. English

8. Midwifery

9. Architecture

10. Maths

*Based on research and analysis by Unifrog, helps teachers to track their pupils's university application progress. The research analysed the behaviour of 107,979 students during the period 1 December 2016 to 31 November 2017.

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Eleanor Busby

Eleanor Busby is a reporter at TES 

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