This page belongs to: STEM Equity Monitor

University enrolment and completion in STEM and other fields

Australian university data looks at enrolment and completion rates for women and men by field of education.

This includes STEM courses in:

  • agriculture, environmental and related studies

  • engineering and related technologies

  • information technology

  • natural and physical sciences.

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University enrolment and completion

Compare university enrolment and completion numbers for women and men in STEM fields, non‑STEM fields and health fields.

Data insights

Between 2015 and 2020, the number of women enrolled in university STEM courses increased from 70,378 to 87,371. This was a 24% increase, compared to a 9% increase for men. This saw the proportion of STEM enrolments that were women increase by 3 percentage points (37% compared to 34% in 2015).

From 2019 to 2020, the number of women enrolled in postgraduate STEM study increased 13%, from 13,600 to 15,631. This was more than twice the percentage increase of women enrolling in undergraduate STEM study, which went up 6%, from 67,656 to 72,020.

However, the proportion of enrolments that were women remained similar from 2019 to 2020. The proportion of postgraduate enrolments that were women stayed at 38%, while the proportion of undergraduate enrolments that were women increased from 35% to 36%.  

From 2019 to 2020, the proportion of university STEM course completions that were women fell by one percentage point. The number of STEM course completions grew by 1%, from 15,940 in 2019 to 16,072 in 2020. This was driven mostly by postgraduate completions.

The number of undergraduate completions fell about 2% for both women and men from 2019 to 2020.

In 2020, women continued to make up over half of student enrolments and completions in:

  • agriculture, environmental and related studies
  • natural and physical sciences.

Women remained underrepresented in enrolments and completions for engineering and IT. Women only made up 18% of engineering and related technologies enrolments and 20% of information technology enrolments.

However, the proportion of information technology completions that were women increased by 3 percentage points in 2020 – the biggest increase in this field since 2015.

About the data

University qualifications in this data range from bachelor degree level to PhD.

Enrolment and completion numbers refer to women and men enrolling or completing qualifications in a particular calendar year. They include Australian citizens, New Zealand citizens, Australian permanent residents and Australian humanitarian visa holders.

Data for years before 2021 was sourced from DESE uCube. 2021 data has been compiled through a separate DESE data request and aligns to historical data. Data in this report should not be compared directly to DESE published pivot tables due to a change in DESE display methodology.

Enrolment and completion numbers across years do not represent longitudinal data. You should not use them to determine attrition rates.

Read more about our methodology and this data.

Completion rates for undergraduates: 2012 to 2016 cohort analysis

Comparison of undergraduate enrolments in 2012 with completions by 2016 for women and men in STEM fields, non‑STEM fields and health fields

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics (unpublished data) 2021

Data insights

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) conducts ongoing longitudinal analyses of various population groups. The analyses follow the same cohort of people over many years to track their outcomes and changes in outcomes over time.

This data shows the completion outcomes for 140,000 people who started undergraduate study for the first time in 2012 and were aged under 25 at the time.

Completing study

In the ABS’s sample of undergraduates, more women than men started undergraduate study in 2012. However, STEM enrolments for men were nearly double women’s STEM enrolments. 15% of women who had completed their study by 2016 had completed as STEM graduates, compared to 33% of men.

49% of women who started studying STEM in 2012 completed a STEM degree by 2016, compared to 42% of men. However, 13% of women who started in STEM completed a degree in a different field by 2016, compared to 6% of men.

493 women and 475 men started in a non-STEM or health field in 2012 and switched to complete a degree in STEM by 2016. This was around 1% of all non-STEM and health enrolments.

Fields of study

Information technology had the lowest completion rate for women. Only 25% of women who enrolled in information technology in 2012 graduated with a degree in that field, compared to 37% of men.

Health had the highest completion rate for women. 60% of the women who enrolled in health in 2012 had completed a degree in that field by 2016.

The following table shows initial enrolment counts and completion rates for 2012 STEM enrolments who either kept studying STEM or changed to another field.

STEM field enrolled in 2012

Gender

Graduated in same STEM field

Graduated in different STEM field

Graduated in non-STEM field

Graduated in health field

Did not finish by 2016

Natural and physical sciences

Women

n = 9,111

49%

1%

7%

8%

12%

Men

n = 8,465

44%

2%

6%

3%

18%

Information technology

Women

n = 804

25%

12%

14%

4%

18%

Men

n = 4,269

37%

3%

5%

0%

28%

Engineering and related technologies

Women

n = 1,530

34%

4%

7%

5%

13%

Men

n = 8,129

34%

3%

3%

1%

18%

Agriculture, environmental and related studies

Women

n = 1,011

47%

3%

6%

0%

20%

Men

n = 843

48%

2%

2%

0%

22%

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics (unpublished data) 2021 

About the data

The department commissioned The Australian Bureau of Statistics to undertake this longitudinal study.

They examined the study participation of 140,000 undergraduates aged under 25 in 2012. Only undergraduates who started higher education study for the first time in 2012 were included. This allowed a comparison of qualification outcomes for STEM students with other fields of study over the 5 years from 2012 to 2016.

To do this, the ABS analysed the Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP) Modular Product (2011–2016). This is a linked dataset providing anonymised and aggregated analysis of:

  • 2011 higher education data
  • 2016 Census of Population and Housing data
  • 2010–11 to 2015–16 personal income tax data.

By combining this with other ABS data, the ABS determined the transition of students through higher education between 2012 and 2016. Linkage of datasets is based on the data quality for the particular variable and highest level of linked records with the 2011 higher education data. This may have resulted in differences in total numbers and proportions reported.

We have grouped the qualifications broadly into STEM, non-STEM and health, and used further granular details for analysis where possible. All definitions of education, occupation and industry are consistent with our methodology.

Read more about our methodology and this data.