Universities try quotas to boost
females majoring in engineering

An increasing number of universities have introduced a special quota for female students majoring
in engineering to strive for a proper gender balance in the traditionally male-dominated field. 

High school students during an open campus tour hosted by Nagoya University’s
engineering department in Nagoya on Aug. 9 (Provided by Nagoya University)

Read this article on Asahi Shimbun’s website

Published the 20th december 2022

An increasing number of universities have introduced a special quota for female students majoring in engineering to strive for a proper gender balance in the traditionally male-dominated field. 

The Tokyo Institute of Technology will launch the special quota starting from enrollment in fiscal 2024. Currently, female students account for only about 13 percent of the university’s undergraduates.

“Flexibility and creativity are rarely displayed in a group of the same kind of people,” university President Kazuya Masu said in November.

The university said it has made efforts to recruit more female students in the past, but the number of those majoring in engineering has not increased.

University officials hoped that creating a special quota would rectify the problem and decided to set one for 58 students in fiscal 2024, and a quota for 143 students in fiscal 2025.

The university estimates that such efforts will increase the number of female students enrolled to above 20 percent.

According to a school survey conducted by the education ministry in fiscal 2021, the number of female students enrolling in engineering-related departments was about 60,000.

The figure accounted for less than 16 percent of the 380,000 or so engineering students nationwide.

The percentage of enrolled female students in engineering is the lowest among other departments, according to the survey.

The gender gap is even greater by global standards.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), of all female university enrollees in Japan, only 7 percent chose to major in science and engineering in 2019.

The figure was significantly lower than 15 percent, the average among OECD member nations.

The initiative to equalize the number of female students majoring in engineering is mainly being driven by industry circles.

Many businesses now believe that diversity produces a high-quality result in terms of innovation.

In 2016, the Development Bank of Japan Inc. released a study that showed that the economic value of a patent that involved a woman in its development was 1.4 times higher than a patent that involved men only in its development.

Influenced by the study and other factors, an increasing number of engineering departments have decided to set up a special quota for female students in their undergraduate admissions process.

In fall 2021, Nagoya University posted on its website phrases such as, “Diverse human resources that bring in flexible ideas and new viewpoints are necessary” and “We are in a phase where a disruptive innovation is needed.”

The university has set up a special quota for nine female students for its engineering department in the fiscal 2023 admissions process.

“We have received strong demand from companies that consider that a woman’s viewpoint is important so they want to hire women who have studied engineering,” said Seiichi Miyazaki, the engineering department chair. 

In actuality, the job placement ratio for such female students has been nearly 100 percent, Miyazaki said.

“But they are few in number,” Miyazaki said.

The department’s special quota is available as part of the university’s entrance examination by commendation.

The intention of the process is “to select students from various points of view, including academic competence,” he said.

Miyazaki said he hopes the new quota helps increase the number of women among engineering majors.

At Shibaura Institute of Technology, four faculties that are related to engineering have adopted an entrance examination by commendation for female students.

Since fiscal 2022, all nine faculties that are related to engineering have adopted it.

In fiscal 2023, all four departments will start using it.

Nara Women’s University started its faculty of engineering in the 2022 spring semester with 45 full-time students.

Many enrollees said in a survey that they chose to study there because it is a women’s university and they thought they would feel “comfortable.”

Ochanomizu University will open a new engineering department in the spring of 2024.

“It has been like a chicken and egg situation,” a university representative said describing the reality of engineering majors. “Female students do not come because there are many male students.”

“We need to create eggs first to change the cycle,” the representative said.

(This article was written by Hajime Ueno, Chika Yamamoto and senior staff writer Fumio Masutani.)