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Title: Women's representation in STEM related education and careers : a case study of female university students in Saudi Arabia
Author: Sani, Maryam
ISNI:       0000 0004 7967 1770
Awarding Body: Staffordshire University
Current Institution: Staffordshire University
Date of Award: 2018
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Predicted skills shortages in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) have caused global concerns regarding skills shortage and economic competitiveness. Evidence suggesting flaws in this prediction have not deterred the implementation of numerous initiatives to attract untapped human capital to STEM careers. Women have been identified amongst the underrepresented groups in STEM education and careers; however, the drive to increase their representation has yielded minimal success. Consequently, the underrepresentation of women in STEM education and careers has developed into an issue of gender equality, particularly in secular societies. This study explores the representation of women in STEM education and careers in an Islamic country, Saudi Arabia, which has a distinctive gender-segregated society, one reinforced by cultural, religious, and social norms. This study also examines the influences on girls' decisions to pursue STEM education and careers by employing a mixed methods approach that focuses on the lived experiences of the participants. Questionnaires were administered to 352 female participants in one public university. Out of these, 312 were foundation year STEM track students (FYS), 30 were third year STEM students (TYS), and 10 were university faculty members (FM). Analysis of the survey data revealed that students' aspirations for STEM careers begins as early as grade 4; the favourite school subject is mathematics; and the most desired profession is medicine. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a sample of 35 participants: FYS (20), TYS (10), and FM (5). Analysis of the qualitative data revealed that girls do not experience subject-related gender stereotypes in public schools. Nevertheless, whilst they are empowered to study all science subjects, only the most academic can follow the science track in high school and university. It was also evident that career education in Saudi Arabian schools is inadequate and students rarely receive careers guidance in school, although they receive unparalleled encouragement and support from their parents and extended family. The findings of this study gave empirical support to Giddens' Structuration Theory. It reveals that social and cultural transformations are commonplace within female-only and family spheres, where the agentic actions of girls are enabled and, subsequently, lead to their empowerment within them. Yet, this study also demonstrates that, oftentimes, working women themselves contribute to the reproduction of social structures. It highlights the fact that the high uptake of Saudi women in STEM education in Saudi Arabia is not replicated in the labour market. The contribution of Saudi female STEM graduates has largely been constrained by the shortage of jobs for women, and cultural norms that prioritise family responsibilities. It is evident that structures in the public sphere are generally reproduced, and when transformations do occur, they are the result of government endorsements. This is a pivotal time in the lives of Saudi Arabian women, as the current structural changes outlined in the 2030 vision encourage the participation of women in the workforce. However, the swiftness of cultural changes may be dependent on individual and familial structures and aspirations. This study recommends strategies for increasing the autonomy of school teachers and principals, and for developing students' early interest in STEM subjects. Furthermore, it recommends the introduction of effective career education programs into schools and the involvement of parents in initiatives to equip students with knowledge, about possible careers and the labour market, prior to entering high school.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available