Churchill’s master condemns physics gender imbalance

Anna Carruthers 4 October 2014

Athene Donald, the new master of Churchill College and one of Cambridge’s most prominent gender equality champions, has criticised the disproportion of female students studying physics at A-Level.

She has described the lack of women physicists as ‘appalling’ and that she believes the problem is causing the UK workforce to lose out on potential skilled workers.

Donald’s criticism is based on a report from the Institute of Public Policy, claiming that hundreds of sixth form co-ed state schools across the UK currently have no female students studying physics. It also states that only 7% of the UK’s professional engineers are women, lower than most European countries.

Concerns are now being raised by the Confederation of British Industry which is expecting to see a shortage of engineers in the near future.

Donald believes the root of the problem lies in early education: “There is an assumption you do not give girls Mechano sets and they are constantly receiving subtle and subconscious cues from parents, teachers and television programmes”.

One Magdalene Natsci agreed: “I do agree that there is a gender bias within my subject and this is probably the result of the way science and engineering is presented to girls from a young age. That said, I have never felt discouraged from science or maths by my teachers”.