HELENA – Higher Education Leading to Engineering and Scientific Careers

presented by Dr. Yvonne Pourrat, Conference des directeurs des écoles françaises d’ingénieurs, France at the EPWS Debate in the European Parliament

“Since women’s presence in engineering appears to be a key-issue for European economic and technical development, as well as a central achievement towards gender equality and social justice, it is important to understand why there are so few women in E&T.

There are traditionally two reasons put forward:

  • Technology has a very clear gendered representation, which is a masculine one culturally, symbolically and professionally.
  • The lack of interdisciplinary subjects in E&T curricula is acting as a foil to potential E&T students, males and females.

The first one has been extensively studied over the last twenty years. Hence, HELENA focused on the second one.
The HELENA methodology is based on comparisons between “traditional” and “innovative” European Higher Education E&T curricula (I will specify what is called in this study traditional and innovative courses). Then, 24 of these study programmes (case studies) were analyzed. Finally, a field work was conducted through 162 individual interviews with female and male students from the selected case studies.

The results:

  • Engineering study programmes with more than 25% of non-engineering subjects are more attractive to women than traditional engineering study programmes: interdisciplinary study programmes have about 12% more women than the average of all the study programmes analyzed.
  • Women have a higher success rate in interdisciplinary programmes (about 16% more) than in traditional ones.
It was very clear that success depends on the cultural context, on the kind of relation which is built between subjects in a curriculum, and how the teaching is organized, e.g. project-based pedagogy is a positive factor.

The main recommendations are:

  • Open the E&T curricula to a more interdisciplinary dimension
  • Adapt pedagogy and training and assessment methods
  • Establish new rules for increasing women’s presence in E&T higher education 
  • Strengthen continuing training of teachers
  • Sensitize citizens to self-reflection and life-long-learning

Tags: , , , , , , , ,