Tertiary disruption to encourage more women into engineering

An Australian university is disrupting the status quo by altering the entry criteria to tertiary education to attract more women into engineering, and it's drawing praise, but with some criticism.
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Tertiary disruption to encourage more women into engineering

An Australian university is disrupting the status quo by altering the entry criteria to tertiary education to attract more women into engineering, and it's drawing praise but with some criticism.

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has received approval from the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board to adjust its Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) by 10 points to encourage more young women to take up study in engineering, construction and computing. 

At present, only 13% of the engineering workforce is female and only 11% of women are in the building and construction workforce while IT roles for women sit at 28%. This is contrast to Australia women undergraduate numbers of 58%.

In what UTS said is "breaking down the barriers to gender equality", all women applying for undergraduate degrees in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology (FEIT) or for a construction project management degree in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building (DAB) will receive the points adjustment.

The adjustment, Dr Arti Agrawal, Director UTS Women in Engineering and IT (WiEIT) said, is necessary as a generation of initiatives to support greater female participation in these key industries of the future has only seen minor progress.

"We need our education institutions to encourage girls and women at all levels, and create a stronger 'pipeline' to acquire the skills and knowledge to build successful careers in dynamic areas," she explained.

Not everyone is supportive of the UTS move though, as reported by The Guardian, but it has attracted more support than opposition. Dr Agrawal told the publication the change in rules is part of the university's 30-year plan to improve gender equity in engineering and will not lower standards.

"We're not taking in underperforming students or doing tokenism here," she said. "Nobody is getting a free pass … they all have to do all the degree requirements [and] internships."

Engineers Australia's National Manager for Professional Diversity and STEM is supportive of the bold move.

"We need to be disruptive – what we have been doing is not working - it's time to flick the switch," Justine Romanis emphasised.

"We need to show the benefits that greater diversity will create for everyone – for individuals, for teams, for organisations, [and] for the profession."