STEM strategy for education and training: third annual report

Third annual report on progress of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic (STEM) education and training strategy setting out a range of actions that have been taken, despite the restrictions due to COVID-19, in support of STEM education and training provision.


We will promote Equity by:

  • Tackling inequity in STEM learning and careers.
  • Improving participation in STEM further and higher education courses and apprenticeships.
  • Increasing access to public science engagement events.

IGBE Programme
Tackling gender inequality across different areas in the education and learning landscape is of fundamental importance, in order to ensure equality of access, opportunity and outcomes for all girls and women, at every point of their learning and development journey. Current activity falls in to two broad categories: strategic frameworks and policy commitments.

We aim to change perceptions about STEM and challenge assumptions about who does what job. Education Scotland has a dedicated team working with schools and early learning providers to tackle gender bias and improve gendered participation and subject choice. In the period December 2019 to December 2020, Education Scotland's Improving Gender Balance and Equality Officers engaged with 279 distinct establishments, and over 2,100 practitioner engagements.

In addition, Scotland's Youth Employment Strategy, Developing the Young Workforce, acknowledges that too many young people continue to make career and training choices which conform to gender stereotypes, which in turn limit their longer term career opportunities. It underlines the need to counter the influence of early culture and prejudice to better enable young people to make choices which are right for them in the long term. The DYW Strategy includes specific actions around promoting career options to different protected groups, designing senior phase vocational pathways to improve gender balance, reducing occupational segregation in Modern Apprenticeships and embedding equality across Curriculum for Excellence. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Developing the Young Workforce programme has continued to provide support and deliver relevant work-related learning under challenging conditions, with partners adapting to changing restrictions.

STEM Highers – Entries and Passes by Gender – 2016 to 2020 Colleges and Universities – Gender

STEM Higher entries by gender show a 0.7% increase for Females and a 0.1% increase for Males in the year 2019-20. The passes by gender show a 19% increase for Females and a 22.6% increase for Males in the year 2019-20

STEM Highers






% change 2019-2020































Colleges and Universities
Colleges and universities continue to prioritise the recruitment of women into STEM courses, with a slight increase in 2019-20 of the proportion of STEM enrolments in colleges by women. However, much more progress is required.

The Scottish Funding Council supports institutions to tackle gender imbalance and inequality as set out in institutional Gender Action Plans, which each college and university has developed. SFC works with AdvanceHE to help institutions improve their Gender Action Plans, many of which have a focus on STEM. Furthermore, SFC is working closely with EHRC to help institutions reduce persistent inequalities.

Gender Action Plans (GAP)
The aim of the GAP is that, by 2030, no college or university subject will have a gender imbalance greater than 75% of one gender. Each college and university setting has a GAP outlining how they will advance equity and reduce gender disparities within STEM subject areas. Higher Education Institutions are also seeing an increasing number of Scottish domiciled applications in a variety of STEM associated subject areas.

Scottish Domiciled Applications to all UK Higher Education Institutions in selected STEM related subject groups shows increases of 24% in Medicine & Dentistry, 29% in Subjects allied to medicine, 29% in Vet Sci, Ag & related subjects, and 33% in Education.
Subject Group 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 Change between 2020 & 2021
Medicine & Dentistry 4,790 4,910 5,080 5,430 6,710 24%
Subjects allied to Medicine 21,470 21,570 22,320 24,690 31,920 29%
Vet Sci, Ag & related 2,020 1,900 1,960 1,830 2,370 29%
Education 21,070 21,650 20,190 19,610 26,050 33%
Enrolments in STEM courses at Scottish Higher Education Institutions by Sex – 2019-20
Subject Classification (CAH01) Male Female Total % of female enrolments
Biological and Sport Sciences 5,145 6,990 12,160 57.5%
Psychology 2,185 8,600 10,855 79.2%
Agriculture, Food and Related Studies 955 1,465 2,425 60.4%
Physical Sciences 4,805 3,635 8,460 43.0%
General and Others in Sciences 485 630 1,120 56.3%
Mathematical Sciences 3,070 2,285 5,360 42.6%
Engineering and Technology 16,570 4,580 21,180 21.6%
Computing 12,000 3,470 15,515 22.4%
Architecture, Building and Planning 3,790 2,545 6,340 40.1%
Geographical and Environmental Studies (natural sciences) 1,120 1,595 2,720 58.7%
STEM excluding medical related 50,125 35,795 86,135 41.6%
Medicine and Dentistry 3,020 5,115 8,185 62.5%
Subjects Allied to Medicine 5,330 26,165 31,525 83.0%
Veterinary Sciences 335 1,770 2,105 84.0%
STEM including medical related 58,815 68,845 127,945 53.8%
Non STEM Subjects 46,715 85,295 132,540 64.4%
Total 105,530 154,140 260,490 59.2%

Enrolments in STEM courses at Scottish Higher Education Institutions by Sex – 2019-20
Totals include a small number of enrolments with unknown or prefer not to say sex. Numbers rounded to nearest 5 and percentages based on unrounded numbers. 2019-20 subject classifications are based on the new Common Aggregated Hierarchy, as such they are not directly comparable to previous years. Source: HESA Student Data

Gender Pay Gap Action Plan
The Scottish Government's Gender Pay Gap Action Plan acknowledges that inequalities in the labour market are strongly influenced by societal attitudes. It pulls together a broad ranging suite of actions from across the Scottish Government which will address gender stereotyping, unconscious bias and occupational segregation in both the Early Years and Schools settings which will ultimately contribute to reducing the gender pay gap.

Skills Development Scotland (SDS) has also recently established a Gender Commission, in response to findings by the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board, with members drawn from employers, education, trade union and parent/carer representatives. The Commission's objectives are to develop recommendations and proposals that offer business-ready, practical solutions to what employers can do now, and in the future, to address any real or perceived barriers to improving gender diversity in their workforce.

Digital Skills and the Logan Review
Data, digital skills and computer science are an increasingly prominent feature of the curriculum in schools in Scotland, underpinned by the focus on numeracy and mathematics in education. The Government's acceptance of the recommendations of the Logan Review demonstrate the commitment to putting these skills at the heart of our young people's education, recognising how fundamental these will be in their future lives.

We are developing an action plan for Mark Logan's education recommendations which capitalises on what is already in place through the STEM Strategy and Developing the Young Workforce to bring about improvements in this important area of learning.

Among other things, the Logan review of education recommends that computing should be treated as a core subject such as Maths and English, more project work in the curriculum, more professional development for computing teachers, better information about digital careers and greater industry engagement. A formal programme is being set up to manage the Logan review as a whole, with specific workstreams on pre and post 16 education.

In 2017, a process was undertaken to ensure the Experiences and Outcomes set out in the Curriculum for Excellence reflected the most up to date and relevant learning for young people on computer science and digital skills. We expect digital skills, including coding, to be a part of the curriculum in schools in Scotland, with the foundations of coding being built up from the early years onwards through the development of computational thinking. We continue to engage with experts across the system to ensure our teachers have access to the best resources and professional learning to deliver their curriculum with confidence.

We are working to ensure that all teachers have access to high-quality support for computing in the classroom. Education Scotland has set up regional primary and secondary led teacher networks to up-skill teachers in knowledge and effective teaching approaches in computing science. Employers and other partners are doing great work with schools to inspire and engage children and young people through extra-curricular clubs and activities. We expect to re-examine work in this area as we develop our response to the Logan Review.



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