Chancellor launches gender agenda at Science Museum

By Will Stanley and Roger Highfield

A major government campaign was launched today at the Science Museum to boost the numbers of young people —especially women — studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

Announced by George Osborne MP, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Your Life campaign has the ambitious aim of increasing the number of students studying STEM subjects by 50% over the next three years.

Chancellor George Osborne at the launch of Your Life.

Chancellor George Osborne at the launch of Your Life. Credit: Science Museum

There is plenty of evidence that women and minorities face an uphill struggle in UK science. As one sign of the prevailing concern, 600 people joined us this morning for the launch of Your Life, which includes a three year exhibition at the Science Museum.

Fewer than 20% of 16-19 year olds take A-Level Maths and half of mixed state schools have no girls study A-Level Physics in 2011. ‘Only two per cent of girls are doing physics A level. That is not good enough. That is something we have got to change,’ said the Chancellor.

Surrounded by some of the most important objects in the history of science, in the museum’s Making the Modern World gallery, the Chancellor spoke about the need to inspire the next generation.

Guests for the Your Life Campaign launch in the Science Museum. Credit: Science Museum

Guests for the Your Life Campaign launch in the Science Museum. Credit: Science Museum

He told the audience that ‘all my life’ he had been visiting the Science Museum. ‘I bring my children to this museum and when you see all the incredible exhibits here, the steam engines, aircraft, early electricity generation and spacecraft, it is easy to think this happened in Britain’s past….that is not true.

One of the key things we are trying to challenge in this campaign is the idea that science engineering and design are all part of Britain’s great industrial past, not our future’

As one example of how Britain is contributing to the future, he singled out the museum’s Collider exhibition, which celebrates the achievements of a vast army of scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in finding the Higgs particle, due to open at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester later this month.

To help meet this challenge of attracting more students to careers in STEM, the Science Museum’s director, Ian Blatchford, announced a major three-year exhibition, backed by leading companies and the Royal Academy of Engineering. Watch this space for more news over the coming months.

Mr Blatchford pointed out how of the 3.4 million visitors to the Science Museum, half are women, and that the museum plays a key role in inspiring people to study STEM, for instance with its festivals celebrating the role of women in fields such as Formula 1, energy, space and aeronautics.

Education Minister Liz Truss MP praised the ‘fantastic turnout’ at the museum echoed the Chancellor’s words, citing the common Chinese saying “science and maths can get us everywhere.”

Too many teenagers, especially girls, don’t realise this, she added, saying she wants to ‘eradicate science deserts….if we get this right, the opportunities will be huge.’

The Museum  is one of over 170 businesses, universities, schools and organisations supporting the Your Life campaign.

Organisations such as Google, Arup, BP, L’Oreal, Microsoft, Airbus, BSkyB and the Royal Academy of Engineering have also pledged to highlight the opportunities open to those studying STEM subjects, with the commitment to create over 2,000 new STEM jobs.

Edwina Dunn, co-founder of Dunnhumby, Eben Upton, founder of Raspberry Pi and Roma Agrawal, a structural Engineer who worked on the Shard, are all advocates for the Your Life campaign, which was trending on Twitter this morning.

Dunn, who co-created the Tesco Clubcard, and her independent board of eight entrepreneurs and advocates hope to transform the way young people think about maths and physics and the careers to which they lead.

The Chancellor was also joined by David Willetts MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science, Matthew Hancock MP and Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Minister for Women, Nicky Morgan MP.  Support was voiced by the Prime Minister and Energy and Climate Change Minister Baroness Verma who said: “My personal commitment is to ensure that 30% of energy company executive board members are female by 2030.

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