Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills are promoted by the Australian Government as pivotal for Australia’s economic prosperity and meeting future workforce requirements.

This study, developed with the support of a National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) Research Grant, is framed around three core research questions:

  1. How do the STEM pathways of equity groups and non-equity groups differ?
  2. What factors facilitate equity group students participating in university STEM courses?
  3. Do the factors influencing young people’s university STEM participation differ between equity groups and non-equity groups?

The study uses data tracking a cohort of young people from age 15 to 25 to explore these core questions. This data is drawn from the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) and from the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA). The study offers new insights into STEM pathways for young people in equity groups as they progress from secondary school, through post-school education and into the workforce. The equity groups of focus in this study are people from Low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds, Non-metropolitan areas, First in Family to enrol at university and Women in Non-Traditional Areas (WINTA).

Key findings:

  • Lower relative transition rates into higher education for most equity groups, meaning that a smaller proportion of equity group cohorts go on to study STEM in university.
  • For women entering university, the transition rate into a STEM field is about half the rate of the national average. Less than one in eight women from this cohort who commenced university did so in a STEM field.
  • For women in STEM fields, completion rates at university are very high compared with national averages and other equity groups, and unlike other groups, STEM completion rates for women are comparable to rates of completion in other fields.

The findings from this study have potential implications for policy and practice in relation to three important areas of the student lifecycle – early and middle years of schooling; senior secondary school; and assisting entry into the STEM workforce.

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