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There has been much talk recently about our nation’s productivity problem. Although many factors contribute to this, the Prime Minister recently sought to address the problem by setting out an ambitious proposal for all pupils in England to study maths in one form or another until the age of 18. 

Linked to this, teenagers face the potentially complicated question of whether or not to pursue higher education to study maths or a STEM subject. It is a fraught choice because, with fees up to £9250 per year, the decision about whether to go to university at all have serious financial ramifications.  

An analysis by a team at the Institute for Fiscal Studies for the Department of Education attempts to estimate the impact on future earnings of those who attend higher education compared to those who decided against it. You can read the government report here

By using a large data set, the report details how the impact of choosing to study at university varies by subject and institution. It also shows how these returns vary by gender, prior educational attainment and the subjects individuals have studied up to the age of 18. It is the aspect of gender that I’d like to focus on here.

We must begin with the fact that there is a gender imbalance in A-level Mathematics and Further Mathematics. The percentage of A-level math entries by females has sat stubbornly at around 38% for several years; the corresponding figure for A-level Further Maths is even more disappointing at 28%, as shown in the graph below.  

This has implications for future earnings because we know that there is a correlation (presumably also causation) between earnings and school maths attainment. For example, from the above-mentioned publication, the graphs below details earnings by maths GCSE grades for women and men in their twenties across England. 

The link between earnings and maths attainment is also evident in the relationship between what women earn and their choice of degree subject. The graph below, also taken from the publication, shows the mean salary at the age of 29 for women by the degree subject they took. Evidently, STEM subjects such as maths, physics, and engineering lead to relatively well-paid careers for many women who study them. 

It becomes clear that we should work to open the pathways for girls to study maths or mathematical subjects at university. For this reason, the AMSP is putting on a series of events across the country for girls in Year 12 who are considering their university options.  

Our SUMS (Steps to University for Mathematical Students) Enrichment Day events, one of which will take place at the University of Nottingham, 28 April, will give aspiring female mathematicians a chance to learn more about studying maths, and related subjects, at university. Students will get the opportunity to meet and talk to recent female maths graduates who use maths in their careers and ask them about studying maths at undergraduate level. Perhaps the most exciting part of the day will involve students working alongsideundergrads on learning group theory. There are still places left, so please encourage your female students to attend. 

If you haven’t already introduced your students, we have a free monthly magazine for all students studying A level maths and Further Maths, SUMS – Steps to University for Mathematical Students. It includes puzzles, introductions to new areas of maths, career profiles and lots of useful information about applying to university. 

If you are interested in the SUMS event or the SUMS magazine, or need other support to increase the rates of female participation at your school or college, please get in touch

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