Engineering has always been considered among the most difficult, if not absolute hardest subject, but in recent years, it would seem that less and less students are being put off and are taking it on in their droves. Data provided by Anvur (The Italian National Agency for the Evaluation of University and Research Systems) provides evidence of this boom in registrations. From 2010/2011 to 2017/2018, those enrolled grew by 7 thousand, accounting for 14.5% of all students registered at Italian Universities, threatening the position of economics/statistics as the most popular areas of study among students.
The academic year currently beginning has further solidified this trend, as explained by Donatella Sciuto, Vice Rector of the Politecnico di Milano and Full Professor of Computer Engineering at the Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering: “We have seen a 6% increase in applications for admission tests compared to last year. During the open days organised by the university, we already met a greater number of young people interested in taking up Engineering. The reason is really quite simple: these degrees provide good opportunities to find a job quickly, especially after completing a Master’s degree, or even with a bachelor’s degree by itself, particularly in IT sectors”.
Engineering is a great choice. Sure studying it involves certain sacrifices, but it will teach you to think independently like no other subject, giving you the skills needed for any job
Despite a constant increase in students registering for courses, it doesn’t appear as though the gender gap in scientific subjects is improving at the same rate. This remains a sensitive area in academia. The majority of graduates are women, but only 15% of these specialise in computer engineering. Numbers of electrical and mechanical engineers are even less; just a tenth of their fellow students. Even today, young women feel that so-called STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) ‘aren’t suited’ to them.
This issue remains a sensitive area: “Stereotypes remain in men and in many families, even though, thankfully, we have seen increases in women registering to study biomedical engineering, chemical engineering and environmental engineering, as these are associated with professions with a higher social standing”, confirms Professor Sciuto. Even as a graduate in Electronic Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano (at just 22 years of age) and with a PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Colorado, she herself is affected by stereotypes that paint women with flourishing careers in science as strange exceptions: “In the academic world, I haven't experienced many problems fortunately. I actually experienced more issues where, in many cases, people thought I was too young. I often experience problems with those outside. In fact, not just me, but many other lecturers too. Just think about it; when you go to a meeting, a male colleague is addressed as ‘professor’, but if you’re a woman, they call you ‘madame’”.
Therefore, there is still progress to be made, but the increase in engineering graduates can only benefit the country, which still sees too few young people (25% compared to 37% in Germany and 29% in the United Kingdom) graduating with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, which are the most sought-after in the work market. So, it seems that more and more students are following Professor Sciuto’s advice: “Engineering is a great choice. Sure studying it involves certain sacrifices, but it will teach you to think independently like no other subject, giving you the skills needed for any job. Every single field in engineering can lead to a job that society will benefit from, now more than ever, even in computing.”