Where have the girls gone?

15 August 2013

Overall rise in numbers taking physics A level but female entrants fall by 17 percent.

As students across the UK receive their GCE A-Level results the Institute of Physics in Ireland has welcomed the  rise of 2.6 % per cent in the number of students choosing to take the physics course in Northern Ireland.

The number of students has risen from 1536 in 2012 to 1577 in 2013. Rises in the popularity of physics have also been seen across the UK with an overall 3% rise in the number of A-Level entrants.

However concern has been expressed about the fall in the numbers of girls in Northern Ireland taking physics from 472 to 392, a decrease of 17 per cent. Girls now make up under 25 percent of the physics A level cohort, compared with 31 per cent last year. This is, however, still a higher proportion than across the UK as a whole (21 per cent).

This is the seventh consecutive year that the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) has announced increases in the number of students choosing to sit examinations in physics. In Northern Ireland the numbers taking physics at A-level have increased by 25% compared with those in 2006.

Dr Peter van der Burgt, Chair of the Institute of Physics in Ireland commented, “Not only is physics a fascinating subject, qualifications in this area give students a real edge in competition for highly-sought after careers. This is a message that the Institute has been making in partnership with schools and government and that really seems to be hitting home now.

“High profile projects such as the discovery of the Higgs particle at CERN which show cutting edge physics and also the results of huge international collaboration, are highly inspirational to young people and a great driver for interest in all the sciences.”

A recent report from the Institute of Physics noted that businesses that are critically dependent on physics contribute 8.8% of Northern Ireland’s economic output – more than £1.5 bn – and employ nearly 27,000 people.

Commenting on the  gender imbalance of the entrants, he continued,  “To have girls making up only a quarter of the physics A Level cohort, is a real loss to society and more importantly we can be sure that there are hundreds of highly able girls in Northern Ireland who are missing valuable opportunities.”

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