Positive news that Europe is producing a growing number of female science and engineering graduates is tempered by a disproportionate take-up in industry, the latest figures show. But the picture varies between the new and ‘old' EU Member States.
The number of graduates in science, maths and computing increased by over a quarter between 1998 and 2001, and European universities produced around 8% more engineers during the same period, according to a report from Eurostat, the European Union's statistical service. Women engineering graduates appear to be the big winners, showing an increase of 31%. But does this translate into jobs in the EU-25?
|Despite gains, women still hit the glass ceiling on the science and engineering market place|
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This upsurge in women engineers does not appear to improve their chances of securing scientific and engineering jobs, where the gender gap is widening, the report says. In these fields, the number of men in the EU-25 increased by 4.9% from 1998-2002, whereas the increase was only 4.2% for women, who were already in the minority at 31% of the workforce.
Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin is upbeat about these findings, but stresses the need for greater effort to increase the Union's human resource base in science, engineering and technology – where at least another 700 000 are needed to keep alive the Union's Lisbon goal of becoming the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010. This was also the consensus of an EU-sponsored conference last April entitled ‘Increasing human resources for science and technology in Europe'.
“[These results] mean that efforts to increase the female workforce in science and technology have led to some initial progress,” the Commissioner said in a prepared statement. “But now governments, universities and especially industry must take steps to ensure that this will actually translate into increased employment of women researchers, especially in the natural sciences and engineering.” He noted that workplaces employing scientists and engineers must become more attractive and accommodating to make the most of Europe's entire pool of talented researchers.
On many indicators, the ten new EU members outperformed their older counterparts. For example, of all countries represented in the survey – the EU-25 plus Iceland, Norway, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey – only in Latvia are women more likely to carry out research and development (R&D) activities than men. “On the whole, the data shows, the new Member States have a larger proportion of female researchers than high R&D funding countries, such as Germany, where only two in every ten government or higher education sector researchers are women,” states the report entitled ‘Women, science and technology: measuring recent progress towards gender equality'.
Almost two-thirds of Polish, Estonian, Cypriot and Lithuanian graduates in 2001 were women, the report indicates. Hungary, Slovenia and Estonia were not far behind, each with around 60% of female graduates in the same year. Of the EU-15, only Portugal and Finland are on par with this strong performance, producing 67% and 62% of female to male graduates.
Contrary to stereotypes, in a large percentage of countries where data was available – 11 out of 21 – women held a higher proportion of the technician jobs than they did ‘research' posts per se. Women also show a greater tendency to work in medical sciences or social sciences.
There is also an emerging pattern where women tend to work in poorly-funded areas and most male researchers in the better-funded ones, notes the European Commission on the report. “This has an adverse impact on transparency and democracy in Europe's scientific governance and the required infrastructure changes to meet the Lisbon objectives.”