MINT subjects: study programmes for women build self-confidence
A place for themselves: women are studying industrial engineering at the Jade University of Applied Sciences in Wilhelmshaven, and IT and economics at the Berlin University of Applied Sciences. But what are the advantages of such study programmes for women?
Germany has a problem: there are too few job applicants, especially in the technical professions. According to calculations by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW), there is a shortfall of almost 210,000 qualified experts in the MINT subjects. MINT stands for mathematics, information technology, natural sciences and technology. If more women would take an interest in these occupations and degree courses, it would be possible, at least in part, to close this expertise gap. For this reason, a stronger effort is being made to attract women into MINT professions. Some universities are pursuing unusual approaches, offering dedicated study programmes for women in a targeted campaign to attract fresh, young talent.
As a rule, women have a greater threshold of inhibitions than men when it comes to taking up a technical profession or starting a degree course in a MINT subject. This still has a lot to do with traditional and antiquated role models, in which technology and natural sciences are seen as things men are better suited to, while women fit better in social professions. For women considering a course of training or studies, the question of whether – and how – it will be possible to combine their career with a family at a later date also plays a role. In addition, many women simply lack the confidence to start a course ‘alone among men’.
Study programmes for women should encourage female students
‘In the technical modules in particular, you don’t have to try and keep up with the men, who usually do have a better understanding in this area,’ explains Jaqueline Dahl, student of the dedicated women’s course in industrial engineering at the Jade University of Applied Sciences in Wilhelmshaven. In an interview with the Alumniportal Deutschland she admits that women often lack self-confidence. In her eyes, courses specially for women strengthen the self-confidence of many female students. ‘I also feel a bit insecure in some respects, but I find it easier to address that uncertainty and to overcome it here, than perhaps I would in a group dominated by men.’
Information from the Didacta Association of the German Education Industry suggests that more than one in two men entering universities begin a course in one of the MINT subjects. Among women, that figure is less than one in four. In IT and engineering subjects, the proportion of women students is only around 21-22%, and only 11% complete their studies.
A study programme for women is not easier
Jaqueline Dahl feels that it is easier to begin studying in a single-sex course, though she adds, ‘This is not because we are only women, but because of the number of students in the course. There are 21 of us women, which enables us to pose plenty of questions during the lectures, for example in the mathematics module. But the things they expect of us are no less difficult!’
Of all the German universities offering dedicated study programmes for women, the Jade University in Wilhelmshaven is the pioneer. In 1997, it was the first university in Germany to set up an industrial engineering degree course purely for women. It is modelled on the women’s colleges of America that also offer women-only courses in MINT subjects – these are places where there are no prejudices about ‘women and technology’.
Higher Education Today – Women's Colleges
A study programme for women is not easier - Teil 2
Juliane Siegeris is a professor of information technology and the coordinator of the women’s study programme in IT and economics at Berlin’s University of Applied Sciences (HTW). In an interview with the newspaper Die Welt, she explains what is special about the course: women discuss things more and pose more questions, so the teaching approach for the women’s course has been designed to accommodate this. Moreover, the curriculum can be divided up flexibly, which makes it family-friendly for those women who have children. E-learning methods are used to support their self-teaching activities.
The six-semester programme for women offered by HTW Berlin admits 40 applicants each year. When the course began in 2009, nobody imagined how well it would be received by the women. The concept used for the course even won the European Union’s first Digital Impact Organisation of the Year award in 2013.
Study programmes for women: the success is great but the choice is small
So far in Germany, only five universities offer dedicated courses for women. ‘Initiatives to set up women-only study programmes (...) often fall down when it comes to the costs,’ explains Ulrike Schleier, professor at the Jade University Wilhelmshaven and head of the industrial engineering course. She is also worried that universities might believe their image will suffer, ‘because the female element could devalue the university.’
Of course, arguments can also be made against women-only study programmes. It is claimed, for instance, that the women graduating will thereafter be less able to hold their own in the male-dominated professional world. For this reason the Jade University only offers the first three semesters as a women-only course, allowing the female students to overcome their potential inhibitions and shyness. After that, the lectures are mixed.
Starting in the technical professions: ‘Girls’ Day’
Initiatives exist to promote technical professions and the MINT subjects, including Girls’ Day. Every year in spring, companies and organisations working in technical and scientific fields demonstrate to girls and young women what openings there are in the traditionally male professions, and what they might expect to find there. They can also participate in short internships and work experience courses to gain their first taste of the work.
Such initiatives seem to be having an effect, at least in the field of IT. According to information from the Federal Association for Information Technology,Telecommunications and New Media (BITKOM), in 2012 more women chose to start studying IT than ever before, with well over 11,000 young women taking up university courses – a year-on-year increase of about 14%. In 2006, the number barely reached 5,000 women.
Discussion and interviews in the community
Have you had your own experiences of dedicated study programmes for women? Can you see only advantages, or are there disadvantages too? Join in the discussion of this topic with other alumni in the ‘Studium und Forschung’ Community group. There, you can also find the full interview with Jaqueline Dahl, and another with Heidi Oltersdorff, who is studying IT and economics in the women’s course at HTW Berlin (in German only).