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Many students who study STEM at primary and secondary school choose to continue developing their skills in higher education. They may enrol and complete their STEM studies through university or through vocational education and training (VET).

Understanding how women participate in STEM higher education can assist the government and other sectors in providing better targeted support for women as they progress through the STEM pathway—from higher education into the workforce. In addition, it can help focus support on particular fields and education types.

Key findings

What proportion of women in higher education study STEM courses?

Women in higher education in 2018 studied STEM at much lower rates than men. Of all higher education enrolments in 2018:

Of all higher education enrolments in 2018, 9% of women were studying STEM, 35% of men were studying STEM and 21% of all students were studying STEM.

Women are enrolling in STEM higher education at much lower levels than men, in both university and VET studies. When considering university and VET enrolments together, only 9% of women participating in higher education enrolled in a STEM course in 2018.

This proportion has remained largely consistent since 2015.

How do STEM and non-STEM enrolments and completions in university and VET courses compare?

Women were underrepresented as a proportion of total STEM enrolments and completions in 2018.

Enrolments – women: All STEM 21%, STEM University 35%, STEM VET 15%. Completions - women : All STEM 23%, STEM University 37%, STEM VET 19%.

 

When considering university and VET together, in 2018 women comprised only 21% of total STEM course enrolments and 23% of total STEM course completions. In comparison, women comprised 60% of total non-STEM course enrolments and 61% of total non-STEM course completions in 2018.

At university, women comprised 35% of STEM course enrolments and 37% of STEM course completions in 2018. In contrast, women comprised 64% of students in non-STEM university course enrolments and completions.

In 2018, participation of women in STEM VET courses was particularly low—only 15% of enrolments and 19% of completions. Similar to non-STEM university participation, women comprised more than half of students in non-STEM VET course enrolments and completions in the same year.