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Female Participation in STEM

Volume 691: debated on Wednesday 24 March 2021

Science and technology will drive our country’s future and women are brilliant at STEM— science, technology, engineering and maths. There are now more girls taking chemistry and biology at A-level than boys, but we need to continue to make progress in other subjects. Initiatives such as T-levels provide an excellent opportunity for girls interested in STEM.

Could I ask the Minister to encourage young women to utilise options like the South Durham University Technical College in Newton Aycliffe, where every one of last year’s students got an outcome they wanted, whether it was a job or further education? The UTC is supported by companies such as Hitachi and Gestamp, and that can create great STEM-based career opportunities. However, currently only about 20% of the students are female. Does she agree with me that more should consider this educational option? The next time she is in the north-east, will she come to see for herself the opportunities that are being created,?

I thank my hon. Friend for championing women in STEM. I congratulate the UTC in Newton Aycliffe for helping women to gain access to prestigious engineering jobs and higher technical opportunities. It is great to see more women taking up subjects such as engineering, but we would like to see more. A really proper and meaningful conversation with a woman role model who has already broken through STEM barriers can inspire girls and young women to enter STEM careers. Companies, such as those he mentions, have an important role in that.

I welcome the Minister’s reply. Participation in STEM can lead to exciting career opportunities in such sectors as renewable energy, but to ensure that young women have every opportunity to pursue their ambitions there must be a career-long pathway that enables them to realise their full potential. That should include fair recruitment processes, the promotion of alumni networks that ensure skill retention and the development of retention programmes. I would welcome an assurance from my hon. Friend that she is liaising with her ministerial colleagues to put in place a route map that includes such staging posts.

It is really positive that we have more women studying to become doctors and that four out of five students studying to become vets are women, but it is less good that only one in five engineering students are women. Initiatives such as Tomorrow’s Engineers Code, which was launched by EngineeringUK, is bringing together Government, business and academia to increase the number and diversity of young people pursuing engineering codes. As one of many Government organisations who have signed the code, we have pledged to work with the engineering community to improve quality targeting, inclusivity and reach of engineering activities.