Exploring the gender divide amongst Erasmus STEM students

When it comes to gender balance amongst European students of science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM), the fact is that, on the whole, men still outnumber women. However there are some exceptions to the rule – and some of these can be found amongst students taking part in the Erasmus university exchange program.

Earlier this year, the European Commission celebrated 30 years of Erasmus; a program which has so far allowed over 9 million students to study abroad at another European university, improve their foreign language skills, discover a new culture, and make new friends. Some of them have even found love, and started a family – leading to over one million babies born to Erasmus couples since 1987! In short, the Erasmus program has helped build the European Union as we know it today.

For those interested in learning more about these 9 million students, digging into relevant data is now possible via the European Open data portal. Here you can examine students’ mobility, areas of study, and the skills they’ve acquired through their Erasmus experiences. You can also look at the gender split across chosen fields of study by country. By visualizing the most recent Erasmus data, we found that:

• The main subjects chosen by Erasmus students are foreign languages, business and administration, law, and political science. Within the field of STEM, the top three subjects are engineering, medicine, and architecture.
• There are 53% more women than men among Erasmus students.

What about STEM?

When it comes to STEM students overall, there are indeed still more men than women (37% more, in fact). But when you drill down into individual subjects, you seen that in many cases, women are more (or equally) represented than men in specific areas. This is true for statistics, mathematics, chemistry, biology, and the life sciences.

How about computer science?

Almost two hundred years ago, a womanAda Lovelaceis thought to have written the first computer algorithm. Yet today, the lack of gender balance amongst Erasmus students of computer science is striking: there are three times as many men than women studying the topic as part of their Erasmus program! This tallies with broader findings – in the United States, for instance, the gap jumps to a ratio of four male students to one female student.

In fact, the only exception to this trend is Romania: which is the only EU country where female computer science students outnumber men within the Erasmus programme. It’s not surprising Romania is a country known for its computer science training!

It hasn’t always been this way though. Up until the 1970s, there was a far more balanced representation of both genders in computer science. Yet soon after, the share of women studying and working in the field rapidly started to decline, around the same time that personal computers started showing up in homes. You can learn more about this here.

At Microsoft, we are committed to fostering gender equality in STEM. To achieve our goal of empowering everyone to achieve more, we need to make sure the engineers and developers creating our services and software represent as wide and diverse a cross-section of society as possible. That’s why Microsoft recently conducted research to find out when and why women lose interest in STEM subjects, and how this can be prevented. But it’s also why we champion the many fantastic female engineers and developers already working at Microsoft. By encouraging more women to pursue careers in STEM, we can tap into a whole new pool of talent – and unlock the potential of an entire generation.

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Thomas Roca
Economist & Data Strategist, PhD

Thomas is an Economist and Data Strategist at Microsoft European and Government Affairs in Brussels. He digs into data to study labour mobility, skills’ evolution and the future of work. Before joining Microsoft, Thomas held different positions within the French administration, as a researcher and statistician then as data officer, fostering the use of big data for policy making. He collaborated with the United Nations serving as a visiting research fellow at the Human Development Report Office in New York. As a research fellow with Data-Pop Alliance he gives data literacy and code training to students and UN staff. His ambition: democratizing data-science for social good.