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Engineering students mostly white men despite diversity efforts, report finds

Despite efforts, most engineering students are still predominantly white males, as the sector continues to struggle to diversify its workforce, a charity has said.

EngineeringUK has released a new report – 'Engineering in higher education' – which shows that just 18.5 per cent of engineering undergraduates are female students. The report describes this as an “exceptionally low” figure compared to the 56.5 per cent representation seen across all subjects. The issue is mirrored across the engineering and technology workforce.

The report also finds a lack of ethnic diversity, with the majority (66.1 per cent) of engineering and technology students being white, although this figure is slightly lower than all subjects combined, where over 70 per cent (72.1 per cent) of students are white.

This is a result of the better representation of Asian students in engineering and technology (18 vs 12.7 per cent for all subjects). However, only 8.1 per cent of engineering and technology students were Black and 4.9 per cent were of mixed-race, figures which are similar for all subjects.

The report, based on 2020/21 data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), reveals there were 38,615 first-degree engineering and technology undergraduates in their first year of university, equating to just over 6 per cent of all first-degree undergraduates.

It also reveals a lack of diversity in terms of disability and social mobility. Only 10.5 per cent of undergraduates have a known disability (vs 15.1 per cent for all subjects) and only 11.2 per cent were from areas with the lowest participation in higher education.

Dr Claudia Mollidor, head of research at EngineeringUK, said: “As with all pathways into engineering and technology careers, it’s really important to understand the numbers and characteristics of students coming through the higher-education route.

“Our report highlights a concerning lack of diversity among students, particularly the underrepresentation of women. If the UK is going to have a successful and thriving engineering and technology sector, it’s clear we need to do much more to ensure studying engineering and tech appeals to young people from all backgrounds.”

A previous study found that engineering roles are typically more socio-economically diverse than most other sectors, but that educational barriers threaten to close the door on the profession for people from poorer backgrounds.

Atkins also commissioned research that found that women and ethnic minorities tended to leave the engineering profession prematurely.

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