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1.2 Higher School Certificate student course choice

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HSC course completions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects

Current position

In 2012, 31 percent of course completions by girls at HSC level were in the Key Learning Areas (KLAs) of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This compares to 45 percent of course completions by boys.

Gender gap

  • Girls are 14 percentage points less likely than boys to complete STEM courses at HSC level.
The direction of
change over time

Between 2006 and 2012 there was little change in girls’ or boys’ completion of STEM courses.

In data for 2011 provided in last year’s Report, 32 percent of girls’ course completions were in the STEM KLAs compared to 45 percent of boys’.


Girls’ under-representation in STEM courses contrasts with their strong performance in other subjects (see Table 3.1 and Figure 3.2).

While there is no national data on this topic, recent research in South Australia indicates a similar pattern to NSW. In South Australia, 46 percent of total STEM students are girls compared with 43 percent in NSW.1

Knowledge-intensive, high value-add industries will continue to fuel the prosperity of developed economies like Australia’s.

Women’s further study and career options may be constrained by their course choice at high school. STEM courses are assumed knowledge and/or prerequisites for many tertiary level courses that have good job prospects (see Indicator 5.2, The graduate salary gap).

Further research could establish the extent to which girls and boys have different completion rates across STEM subjects, as opposed to different enrolment preferences.

There were 23 separate HSC courses within the STEM KLAs in NSW in 2012 (see Table 3.1). Note that this year we have included VET subjects and revised last year’s data accordingly. The data captures students who completed courses; enrolment data is not readily available.

Year collected: 2012.
Data source: NSW Board of Studies, unpublished data.

Figure 3.2 Girls’ and boys’ completion of STEM courses at HSC level, NSW, 2012Fig 3.2

Note: STEM courses are listed in Table 3.1. Non-STEM courses are all other HSC courses. English is shown separately because it is compulsory and accounts for 20 percent of all completions.
Population: NSW Higher School Certificate students.
Source: NSW Board of Studies, unpublished data.

Table 3.1 Science, technology, engineering and mathematics HSC completions, NSW, 2012

HSC Key Learning Area Share of girls’ course completions % Share of boys’ course completions %
Science (44,059) 11.5 14.4
Biology (16,570) 5.8 3.9
Chemistry (10,838) 2.8 3.6
Earth and environment (1,497) 0.4 0.5
Physics (9,469) 1.2 4.5
Senior science (5,685) 1.4 1.9
Technology and engineering (31,655) 5.5 13.4
Automotive (741) 0.0 0.4
Construction (3,142) 0.0 1.9
Electrotechnology (405) 0.0 0.2
Metal and engineering (1,422) 0.0 0.8
Primary industries (962) 0.2 0.3
Agriculture (1,403) 0.4 0.4
Design and technology (3,241) 0.8 1.1
Engineering studies (2,051) 0.1 1.2
Food technology (3,782) 1.6 0.6
Industrial technology (5,200) 0.3 2.8
Information processing and technology (3,285) 0.4 1.6
Information technology (1,746) 0.2 0.9
Software design and development (1,471) 0.1 0.8
Technology and applied study (400) 0.1 0.1
Textiles and design (2,404) 1.3 0.0
Mathematics (53,070) 14.4 16.9
Total STEM courses (128,784) 31.4 44.7
Other Non-STEM (143,812) 48.7 35.4
English (67,864) 19.9 20.0
Total course completions (340,460) 11.5 14.4

Note: The figures are for STEM course completions as a percentage of total course completions for HSC units of study. This year VET subjects are included. There were 72,500 students in NSW in 2012 who undertook 340,000 courses. English is shown separately because it is the largest and only compulsory subject.
Population: NSW Higher School Certificate students.
Source: NSW Board of Studies, unpublished data.