Peri: Women are underrepresented in higher education sciences

Latest data shows females a minority in engineering, mathematics and physics.

Yaakov Peri 370 (photo credit: Knesset)
Yaakov Peri 370
(photo credit: Knesset)
Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri said Monday that women make up only 35 percent of students at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, despite high numbers of women attending university and college.
A report presented to the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women found that even though the number of women in higher education has risen significantly and is higher than that of men, women’s representation in the sciences is very low.
The latest data on women in science and the academic world was provided by Mina Bar-On, director-general of the Science, Technology and Space Ministry, and Miriam Erez, head of that ministry’s council for the advancement of women.
They said that although women students’ representation in higher education is higher than it used to be, it remains low, especially in engineering, a major field in which the Technion specializes.
Israeli women students in biology, chemistry and medicine comprise half of the students, but those learning engineering, mathematics and physics are a minority, close to 20%.
Specifically, in mechanical engineering women constitute only 9%; aeronautical engineering 16%; electronics engineering 18%; mathematics, computer science and civil and environmental engineering 22%; and 24% in physics.
According to the Science Ministry, similar statistics about women students in science have been released by the European Union.
Among EU countries, Israel is rated “good” in the exact science and engineering.
Peri said that women constituted one-third of outstanding students at the Technion last year, but only one woman student was accepted to its program for outstanding students in 2012 compared to eight during the year before. Nevertheless, he added, the Technion works proactively to advance women there and hold seminars for new women students and tries to find women for the faculty.
In computer sciences and electronics, women are only 30% of all students, compared to 42% in math and 63% in biology.
Just 28% of university teaching staff in Israel are women, which ranks Israel 30 out of 31 in the EU.
At the Technion, however, which makes special efforts, there are 87 women on the teaching staff this year compared to 82 last year.
Erez said that there are two critical points in the career path of women in science – when they choose whether to take advanced math and scientific subjects in high school and when they need to go abroad for post-doctoral research. It is very hard for women with husbands and families to move the whole family and funding is hard to get, she added.
Peri said his ministry is making special efforts to increase the number of women in science professions through special programs that look for teenagers in the periphery and try to persuade them to go into these fields. They also give them role models and advisors to accomplish this, as well as general scholarships for women master’s and doctoral degree students.
He concluded that the subject of women in science is “of national importance to the society and economy.
“The ministry has set a target to advance awareness of science among girls and women and encourage them to go into professions in which there is a shortage of personnel but that are critical to the future strength of Israel.”