Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, the Provost of NMiTE, the new engineering university being created in Hereford, yesterday (Wednesday 9 May) gave evidence in Parliament to the Skills Commission’s inquiry into the under-representation of women in engineering.
The Skills Commission inquiry is co-chaired by Lucy Allan MP, Preet Gill MP and Professor Sandra McNally. Full details on the Skills Commission inquiry are available here.
Professor Rodriguez-Falcon said: “I was delighted to be invited by the Commission’s inquiry to talk about NMiTE and the exciting developments that are happening in Hereford.
“There is a huge shortfall of talented engineers in the UK, and part of the problem is the imbalance between the number of male and female engineers. NMiTE plans to tackle this problem through a range of radical approaches, and our inspiration comes from our partner, the Olin engineering college in America, which consistently achieves a balanced intake of male and female students.
“One of the biggest problems is that in Britain there is a big mix-up between professional engineers, who typically wear suits and work in offices, and people such as mechanics, who fix things and wear overalls. The misunderstanding is so profound that it is the equivalent of everyone thinking all lawyers wear wigs and Georgian clothing all day. This misconception causes many teenagers, both male and female, to reject an engineering career through an inaccurate understanding of what it involves.
“The second problem is the dogmatic insistence in the UK that all engineers must have A Level physics and maths. Yes, professional and competent engineers need to know when to use maths and what maths to use. Is an A Level the only way of ensuring this? No!
“Too few female teenagers are inspired to take Maths and Physics A Level, partly because they don’t see it leading to the sorts of careers they want. We want to attract such people, as well as mature people such as ex-Forces personnel, who are bright enough to develop their maths while learning to be an engineer.
“Our approach of wanting smart people who have lots of aptitude and attitude to become engineers, rather than only drawing from the limited pool of sixth-formers doing A Level maths, is radical in the context of England. But NMiTE is not out of step when you look internationally, including Scotland, where the syllabus is not so specialised. It is also worth noting that in these countries engineers have a much higher status than in the UK. In fact, it is the dogmatic insistence on people requiring A Level maths in England that is out of step with much of the world.”