University doubles women studying computer science

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Durham University has doubled the number of female students studying computer science degrees in the space of a year. 45 women are starting undergraduate study in the subject at Durham this year, compared to just 22 women last year.

This rise is thanks in part to an initiative led by Professor Sue Black OBE, a Professor of Computer Science at Durham since 2018, to persuade more female A-level students to study computing at university.

The initiative involved working with the Women in Tech group at Durham University, and taking female students to events featuring prominent women involved in the technology sector. The initiative also pushed for half of the academics and students taking part in events to be female.

The computer science department at Durham launched a scholarship, named after Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, Co-Founder of Stemettes, an organisation aimed at encouraging girls aged 5-22 to take up careers in science and technology. Imafidon is also a member of Durham University’s Computer Science Advisory Board.

The scholarship is available to at least one incoming female Durham University computer science student every academic year, who receives £2,000 per year to cover the cost of fees and living expenses, and any other purpose of the recipients choosing.

Professor Black’s efforts mean that female students make up 30% of Durham’s intake of computer science students this year, compared to the national average of 16%.

This comes at a time when the number of students choosing to study computer science at GCSE level is declining. The proportion of female students choosing to study the subject remained low at 21% this year.

Women acounted for fewer than a quarter of total A-level entries

However, more female students are opting to study computing at A-level. This year, there was an increase of over 20% in the number of female students taking A-level Computing – but women still accounted for less than a quarter of total A-level entries.

Professor Sue Black told the BBC she believes this is down to the impact of technology and computing for school students, and emphasised that teachers should attempt to make the subject relevant to the lives of young people.

She said: “They’re walking around with computers every day because they’ve mainly got smartphones. And so the more we could link courses into what they’re doing on their phones, helping them to see that they could be creating rather than just using applications, the better.”

Information available on Durham University’s website, reported on by Palatinate, shows that in the 2019/20 academic year, 61% of science students were male, compared to the Arts and Humanities department, where 61% of students were female, and the Social Sciences and Health department, where 64% of students were female.

Professor Sue Black was a candidate in the 2020 election for Mayor of London for the Women’s Equality Party, but withdrew for health reasons.

Image: Ali Tollervey

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