International Women’s Day

Women in engineering have a better balanced chance at a PhD than in other subject areas

Based on initial insights into the new 2019 U-Multirank data, women in engineering have a better chance at a PhD and employment in the university than those in the sciences and maths. In a recent analysis of nine study subjects in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), U-Multirank data show that although women are entering these fields, few move on to complete a PhD and/ or stay employed in the university for an academic career. However, in the areas of civil-, electrical- and mechanical- engineering, as well as computer science the data shows a better balanced chance for women to complete a PhD and to follow an academic career compared to those in the fields of mathematics and the sciences.

Despite efforts over the years to improve gender balance in higher education, many subject areas remain unbalanced. For example, in the fields of mathematics, chemistry and biology, female students on average count for almost half of all students, if not more. Despite this, the share of women in other STEM subjects is still low, like in the fields of engineering; in mechanical and electrical engineering the share of women is below 20 per cent.

In honour of International Women’s Day, U-Multirank assessed the share of women studying in higher education across various study subject levels, as well as the gender make-up of academic staff. It aims to give an insight into the university’s overall gender balance. Trends in the following STEM fields can already be seen:

  • Sciences: in the natural sciences – with the exception of physics – the proportion of women among students and doctoral candidates to academic employees continuously decreases, despite female students in subject areas like biology and chemistry being the majority.
  • Technology: in computer science the share of female students, PhD candidates and academic staff are closely similar – therefore neither a significant decrease, nor increase is visible in regards to the proportion of female students. Yet on average only about a quarter of computer science students are female.
  • Engineering: in the engineering subjects, the proportion of women among students in the major core subject areas (mechanical and electrical engineering) is below 20%. Despite the low numbers of women entering these subjects, those that do, have better chances of completing a PhD and staying employed in the university. The same is true for female students in civil engineering.
  • Mathematics: despite an almost perfect balance between women and men studying mathematics, the decrease of their shares tends to be greatest when looking at the trends from students to academic staff.

The nine study subjects assessed include: biology, chemistry, civil engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, mathematics, mechanical engineering, physics and production/ industrial engineering. Data are based on some 1,900 departments and faculties from over 350 universities in more than 50 countries worldwide.

Average percentages of women among students, Phd graduates and academic staff


U-Multirank aims at helping students make informed study choices according to what matters most to them. To do so, greater transparency in higher education is needed, even to measure trends such as gender balance. To compare the gender balance of universities, explore U-Multirank’s subject rankings. The assessed study subjects will be published in June, and new study subjects will be added every year.

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. For more information on International Women’s Day, visit

Employees of the U-Multirank team supporting International Women’s Day and a better balanced higher education system.

Photo: Employees of the U-Multirank team supporting International Women’s Day and a better balanced higher education system.

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