An Australian university has lowered the requirements needed for admission to the engineering program for women in an attempt to encourage more females to enter the typically male-dominated field.
According to report Thursday in the Guardian, the University of Technology Sydney gained approval from the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board to lower the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank score required for female applicants by 10-points for the 2020 academic year.
The university is implementing the policy in hopes that it will help reverse a large gender imbalance in engineering career fields.
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Apparently anticipating negative reaction to the move, UTS Women in Engineering and IT director Arti Agarwal stressed that the new policy would not lead to lowering standards.
“We’re not taking in underperforming students or doing tokenism here,” she told the Guardian. “Nobody is getting a free pass. They all have to do all the degree requirements [and] internships.”
According to Agarwal, officials researched whether lower entry requirements would lead to worse outcomes for students that would typically not be admitted and determined that would not be the case.
“We looked at the performance of Atar and the performance of [grade point average] so a lower Atar did not mean they would get a lower GPA. A higher Atar did not mean they were best in the class,” she said.
Agarwal said that 4 to 8 percent of applicants admitted into UTS mechanical engineering programs are female. University officials believe the lowered requirement will boost that to about 20 percent.
In civil engineering, female applicants make up 16 percent of those admitted, and the university expects that number to rise to 20 percent. Meanwhile, females make up 10 percent of computer science offers, and the hope is that will rise to 19 percent.
According to Engineers Australia, 84 percent of Australian engineer graduates are men, and women comprise just 13 percent of the engineering workforce. With a shortage of qualified engineers looming for the country, the aim is that more female students in engineering will help bolster their ranks..
Will Australian university’s policy lead to more female engineers?
While the shortage of females in most STEM fields is not a newly discovered issue, some argue that not much can be done to change gender distribution of career fields like engineering.
In fact, a number of studies have shown that the reason women are underrepresented in STEM fields is not because of discrimination, but because of their own preferences. Even among those who are qualified for complicated STEM jobs, most women choose have been found to stay away from the fields simply because they would rather do something else.
That preference is primary driver of gender imbalances in STEM fields may explain why programs aimed at encouraging female participation in math and science have failed in the past, according to University of Kansas economist Joshua Rosenbloom.
“It sounds like stereotypes,” Rosebloom said in an interview with the Boston Globe, “but these stereotypes have a germ of truth.”
Privilege in college admissions
In the United States, affirmative action has long been a controversial approach to rectifying past injustices. This fall, the College Board planned to expand the addition of an “adversity score” to the SAT in an effort to promote admission of “disadvantaged” students.
The 1-to-100 score is based on 15 social and economic factors, including the crime rate and poverty level of the student’s high school and neighborhood. The College Board, a New York-based nonprofit, would not say exactly how it is calculated.
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However, after facing a wave of backlash, the College Board reversed course this month and abandoned plans to include the adversity score on the SAT.