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HELENA — Result In Brief

Project ID: 230376
Funded under: FP7-SIS
Country: Latvia

Yes to more women in engineering

Balancing the number of men and women in different engineering fields is set to benefit the knowledge economy and encourage innovation. A recent study has revealed how this could be achieved.
Yes to more women in engineering
Economic and technical development in Europe depends on employing more women in engineering-related fields, an objective that will also boost gender equality and social justice. The EU-funded project 'Higher education leading to engineering and scientific careers' (HELENA) investigated gender-based preferences, as well as choice of study by gender, to increase the numbers of women who choose to follow science-led careers.

In particular, the project studied students' perceptions related to economic and technical development in order to produce recommendations on reorganising university curricula accordingly. It collected data from the past 10 years on engineering education from across the EU through various databases and student interviews. The study covered civil engineering, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering management and environmental engineering, as well as information and communications technology (ICT).

To achieve its aims, the project team developed and assessed indicators on the relationship between perception and choice of study. It then identified and analysed interdisciplinary economic and technical development courses across Europe. This involved a thorough review of relevant curricula in Austria, France, Lithuania, Serbia, Spain and the United Kingdom. Issues examined included standardisation of degrees and transferability, new teaching techniques, and non-traditional educational schemes for engineering students and teachers.

Overall, the project examined the establishment and development of engineering education in the six countries, which led to articulating good practices in the field and producing relevant recommendations. It conducted a state-of-the-art review of career choices and gender representations in engineering, as well as an in-depth study of engineering curricula. This helped to identify trends, developments, and similarities and differences in interdisciplinary programmes across engineering disciplines and European countries.

On another front, the project team gathered gender-specific data on traditional and innovative pilot degree courses in engineering, highlighting successful strategies for attracting more female engineering students. Interestingly, the project team found that engineering programmes with more than 25 % non-engineering subjects are more attractive to women than 'traditional' engineering study programmes. It also deduced that women who enrol in interdisciplinary engineering study programmes have a higher success rate than those in 'traditional' engineering study programmes.

In this light, HELENA identified the success factors that lead to an inclusive engineering education. One way to achieve this is by combining different topics in one project using problem-based learning or didactics. Another way is to combine technology with societal and ecological issues, promoting sustainability and addressing issues such as the energy crisis and climate change. These recommendations and other project findings will undoubtedly help balance the gender gap in the engineering field.

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