Department of Family and Community Services

4.3 Undergraduate field of education

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Students participating in higher education at the postgraduate level

Current position

In 2011, 31 percent of women enrolled in an undergraduate course enrolled in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field. This compares to 41 percent of men.

Gender gap

  • Women are 10 percentage points less likely than men to enrol in undergraduate STEM courses at university.
The direction of change over time

While the percentage of women enrolling in STEM courses has remained fairly constant (between 31 and 33 percent) between 2002 and 2011, the actual number of STEM enrolments for women increased by 11,946. By comparison, STEM enrolments for men increased by only 9,043, so that the percentage of men studying STEM courses fell from 46 to 41 percent over the period (see Figure 3.13).

The largest number increases of STEM enrolments for women were nursing at 3,708 (63 percent growth) and behavioural science at 2,881 (83 percent). Percentage increases were greatest in health at 175 percent (to 454 students) and dental studies at 324 percent (to 504 students).

An instance where increased STEM enrolments for men was not matched by an equivalent increase in women was civil engineering, an increase of 1,039 men and 209 women between 2001 and 2010, although the percentage change for women was greater off a low base).

Information technology has become less popular with both men and women since 2002. Women’s enrolments fell 60 percent to just 975 enrolments in 2011 and the number of men fell 32 percent to 5,393 enrolments.

Discussion

Information technology and engineering and related technologies stand out as the courses where the difference between women and men is greatest.

On average, less than 16 percent of participants in these courses were women. 86 percent of engineering students (across all fields of engineering) were men. In 2011, 12 percent of men were enrolled in engineering which is also one of the highest paid graduate careers (see Indicator 5.2). The figure for women was 1.4 percent.

STEM enrolments for this indicator include enrolments by domestic students in several fields of education. Behavioural science is considered a STEM subject despite falling within the Society and Culture study area. Where students undertake double degrees these are counted as two enrolments.

Year collected: 2011.
Data source: Department of Innovation, Higher Education Statistics Collection (Student Collection), unpublished data.

Figure 3.13 Undergraduate STEM enrolments, by sex, 2002-11

Fig 3.13

Note: STEM fields include science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects.
Population: Domestic NSW residents who enrolled in an undergraduate course in 2011 and previous years.
Source: Department of Innovation, Higher Education Statistics Collection (Student Collection), unpublished data.

Table 3.6 Undergraduate STEM enrolments, NSW, 2011

Undergraduate fields of education Share of women’s enrolments % Share of men’s enrolments % 

Natural and physical sciences (20,695) 

7.1

9.3

Natural and physical sciences (4,270) 

2.9

4.2

Mathematical sciences (235) 

0.2

0.5

Physics and astronomy (38) 

- 

0.1

Chemical sciences (73) 

- 

0.1

Earth sciences (97) 

0.1

0.2

Biological sciences (2,181) 

1.5

1.5

Other natural and physical sciences (3,538) 

2.4

2.7

Information technology (6,368) 

0.7

4.9

Information technology (107) 

0.1

0.5

Computer science (218) 

0.1

1.3

Information systems (357) 

0.2

1.8

Other Information technology (293) 

0.2

1.2

Engineering and related technologies (15,111) 

1.4

11.9

Engineering and related technologies (554) 

0.4

4.1

Manufacturing engineering and technology (4) 

- 

- 

Process and resources engineering (304) 

0.2

0.9

Automotive engineering and technology (0) 

- 

- 

Mechanical and industrial engineering and technology (252) 

0.2

1.5

Civil engineering (368) 

0.3

2

Geomatic engineering (12) 

- 

0.2

Electrical and electronic engineering and technology (156) 

0.1

1.3

Aerospace engineering and technology (72) 

- 

0.4

Maritime engineering and technology (4) 

- 

0.1

Other engineering and related technologies (321) 

0.2

1.4

Architecture and building (5,666) 

1.3

3.4

Architecture and urban environment (1,684) 

1.2

1.6

Building (195) 

0.1

1.9

Agriculture, environmental and related studies (3,362) 

1

1.7

Agriculture, environmental and related studies (56) 

- 

- 

Agriculture (526) 

0.4

0.4

Horticulture and viticulture (32) 

- 

0.1

Forestry studies (4) 

- 

- 

Fisheries studies (0) 

- 

1

Environmental studies (846) 

0.6

0.1

Other agriculture, environmental and related studies (26) 

- 

0.2

Health (31,153) 

15.1

8.3

Health (454) 

0.3

2

Medical studies (2,402) 

1.6

1.4

Nursing (9,540) 

6.5

0.5

Pharmacy (834) 

0.6

0.3

Dental studies (504) 

0.3

0.1

Optical science (174) 

0.1

0.2

Veterinary studies (738) 

0.5

0.1

Public health (361) 

0.2

- 

Radiography (646) 

0.4

0.3

Rehabilitation therapies (2,751) 

1.9

0.9

Complementary therapies (429) 

0.3

0.1

Other health (3,217) 

2.2

2.2

Society and culture (5,786) 

4

1.9

Behavioural science (5,786) 

4

1.9

Total STEM subjects (90,187) 

30.5

41.4

Total non-STEM subjects (165,961) 

69.5

58.6

Total course enrolments (256,148) 

100

100

Note: STEM enrolments are enrolments by domestic students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields of education. Behavioural science is considered a STEM subject despite falling within the Society and Culture study area.

Population: Domestic NSW students who gave NSW as their permanent home location and who enrolled in an undergraduate course in 2011.

Source: Department of Innovation, Higher Education Statistics Collection (Student Collection), unpublished data.