According to data from the UN Scientific Education and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), fewer than 30% of researchers worldwide are women and only 30% of female students select STEM-related fields in higher education. Statistics from the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) released in the academic year 2019-20, further reveals that the percentage of women in the Engineering and technology in India is less than 30%.
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“Globally, female students’ enrolment is particularly low in Information and Communications Technology (3%), natural Science, Mathematics and Statistics (5%), and Engineering, manufacturing and construction (8%). Various scholarships could help improve the dire statistics,” says Amita Dev, vice-chancellor of Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University for Women (IGDTUW) that provides Merit cum Means income linked financial assistance scheme (for families with annual income up to 6 lakh) and Merit Scholarship to SC/ST/OBC/Minority apart from research scholarships to full-time PhD scholars and financial assistance to MTech and MPlan students.
Lack of resources
“A majority of the population of the country cannot afford STEMM education for their children, especially from the rural sector and almost always a boy’s education will take preference over the girl’s. Thus, it is necessary to provide special scholarships for meritorious female students who showcase a scientific acumen in higher studies,” Dev says.
The scholarships should start right at the school level, preferably from class VIII onwards to catch them early as it plays a symbolic role in encouraging more girls to become engineers and scientists, says Ravinder Kaur, professor of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT-Delhi and founder-member of its gender unit-IGES (Initiative for Gender Equity and Sensitization).
“If their merit is recognised, even parents’ mindsets might change, considering they plan daughters’ careers factoring in marriage and motherhood, where Engineering often takes a backseat. Even when girls clear JEE Advanced, they may not join the IITs due to the perception of Engineering (more so Mechanical and Civil) as a male-driven domain which parents feel have more to do with shopfloor activities, heavy machinery and construction sites that girls may not be equipped to handle. This accounts for a dearth of women in the IITs and their flagship BTech. Until recently, we had only 8% girls in the IITs, and since their numbers were not going up, the concept of supernumerary seats was started in 2018. A large percentage of PhD students are girls in IIT Delhi, but this does not necessarily translate into their becoming IIT faculty which gives rise to a lack of role models as well,” she adds.
Elaborating on the STEM leaky pipeline, Krishnashree Achuthan, head, Center for Cybersecurity Systems and Networks & Amrita Technology Business Incubator (TBI), emphasises, “Women represent 43% of STEM graduates, the highest globally, but their share in STEM jobs in India is as low as 14%. When compared to their male counterparts, the participation of women in STEM education, especially from poor socio-economic backgrounds, is still a work in progress.”
The outreach of information about STEM scholarships is also not standardised, says Achuthan, adding that various NGOs and private institutions that provide such financial aid do their part in reaching out to the women community and their families. “Along with social media announcements, spreading the word through school or college-level management across the country must be streamlined,” she says, calling for the need to provide full scholarships that allow girls to pursue a variety of interdisciplinary areas.
“What we need is proactive sharing of information on scholarships, grants and funding across small towns and villages through flyers, posters and other collaterals, which highlight the key offerings of the scheme rather than an official notification (where the information is difficult to cull out even for the initiated let alone a student). An education department that has presence in every district, city and village is ideally placed to disseminate this information,” says Rudra Pratap, founding vice-chancellor, Plaksha University that has launched the ‘Ayyalasomayajula Lalitha’ Fund (named after the country’s first woman engineer), to promote enrolment of girls and women in STEM, specifically in higher education.