Mission Discovery was out of this world

The space dust has now settled on Ayrshire’s first ever Mission Discovery programme and what an event it was.

200 Ayrshire secondary school pupils and college students came together for the week-long space school, where they worked in teams to create space experiments.

Under the guidance of the International Space School Educational Trust (ISSET) team that included former NASA astronaut Michael Foale CBE, they challenged themselves to think creatively and work as part of a cohesive team.

Using our social media content from across the week, here’s a round-up of exactly what happened at Mission Discovery Ayrshire 2016.


Monday

With our teams in place and mentors briefed, ISSET Director Chris Barber got the show on the road at our Ayr campus!

The Mission Discovery Ayrshire participants were split into 24 teams and their first mission was to come up with team names.

We then had the first sighting of our astronaut! Michael Foale CBE, a recently retired veteran of six Space Shuttle missions and extended missions on both Mir and the International Space Station, spoke to the teams about his journeys into space and the importance of communicating with every member of the team.

Monday 3

Suitably inspired, the teams then got to work on designing a ‘Mission Patch’ to go with their team name. A Mission Patch is a symbol that represents a space team and is an integral part of any space mission.

The Ayrshire College Foundation had tasked primary schools across Ayrshire to design the Mission Patch for Mission Discovery Ayrshire 2016, with Mauchline Primary School’s Kaitlyn Lodge designing the pick of the bunch.

Sarah Murray, NASA’s Assistant Chief of EVA, Robotics & Crew Systems, then gave her first presentation to the group on the importance of teamwork and making sure everyone in the team has their voice heard.

In the afternoon the teams were told they would take part in an experiment called ‘The Mars Lander’. This involved using different objects to safely transport an egg from the top of the Riverside Building of the Ayr campus to the ground. Safely of course meaning that the egg was not to smash.

The groups were given an egg, a balloon, one sheet of A4 paper, a pair of scissor and a ruler to make their Mars lander. They could buy further materials but the winners would be the team who spent the least amount of dollars to land their egg, so they couldn’t be reckless.

After creating their Mars landers, there was only one thing left to do. Throw them off the top of a building.

To finish off the day, the teams were shown actual footage of Michael’s time in space as he talked about what makes a great space experiment.

Tuesday

Day two began with a glimpse into how Michael became an astronaut, featuring tales of living in Russia, meeting President Bill Clinton and how to have fun in space.

After hearing about Michael’s time on board the Russian Mir Space Station when an unmanned supply vessel crashed into it – described this week as the ‘worst collision in the history of space flight’ by the BBC – the groups were tasked with writing a short story about the experience.

Tuesday 3

After a few selfies with their new hero Michael Foale, the teams then heard from Dr Julie Keeble, ISSET’s Chief Scientist, who explained the criteria for experiments at the Space Station.

The teams got to work on formulating their experiment ideas – with the assistance of Michael, Julie and Sarah – before hearing Professor Steve Harridge’s presentation on an astronaut’s muscles in space, via Skype.

Wednesday

Halfway through the week now and the teams were hearing all about the International Space Station, where the winning experiment from this week would be carried out by real astronauts. Michael provided the guided tour as he explained where everything was stored, where the astronauts worked out and even how they slept in space. This was followed by a Q&A, surprisingly featuring plenty of questions about going to the toilet in space…

Wednesday 1

At this stage, most of the teams had proposed two or three ideas each, and this was the day that the teams decided on which of their ideas they would be pitching at the end of the week.

After working on their experiments for a while, the teams took part in the Skittles Challenge.

Wednesday 2

This experiment proved the importance that the sense of smell has on taste. Most people were unable to guess which colour of skittle they had in their mouth when they had their eyes shut and their nose pinched. Within a split second of breathing in through their nose though, everyone knew which flavour they had.

A couple of team members who guessed correctly when at their tables were invited to do it again in front of everyone – unfortunately both participants were incorrect when the pressure was on!

Wednesday 3

To conclude the day, the teams broke up into classrooms for the first time to really get to work on their experiments, before joining back together for a showing of One Direction’s Drag Me Down video. Why? Because it was filmed at the Johnson Space Center!

Thursday

The final day before the presentations. But before they all went off to their classrooms, Ayrshire College’s Developing the Young Workforce Project Lead, Kirsty Taylor, spoke to the groups about Foundation Apprenticeships.

A Foundation Apprenticeship is for S5 pupils and gives them the opportunity to learn both at college and in the workplace to achieve an industry recognised vocational qualification alongside their other school subjects.

Thursday 1

Michael then delivered his final presentation – Earth from Space!

Thursday 2

The main part of the day was taken up by working on their experiments. They weren’t completely left to their own devices though – they could ask Michael, Julie or Sarah a question if they were stuck.

Friday

Finally, we were at presentation day.

Teams were divided into rooms where two judges would hear their initial presentations. Once each team had delivered their idea within the 8 minute time limit, the judges deliberating over which six would make it to the final stage.

Team 2 (with their experiment ‘Nanoparticles’), Team 3 (‘Enzyme reaction experiment’), Team 10 (‘Foam to treat internal bleeding’), Team 14 (‘The speed of slime mould on different materials), Team 19 (‘Flatworm freefall’), and Team 23 (‘Investigating Krill in space’) were announced as the finalists.

The final stage involved delivering their presentations in front of the judges again, but also the 23 other teams at Mission Discovery Ayrshire.

Team 10 got us underway, while Team 14 finished.

And it turned out to be a case of saving the best until last as Team 14, made up of James Abbott, Pip Abramson, Laura Borthwick, Dylan Goldie, Robyn McMahon, Jas McNee, Lynne Mitchell, Ania Myskowska, triumphed!

Friday 3

Their idea will go to the International Space Station within the next year.

In a final treat before the Mission Discovery Ayrshire participants finished for the week, another Skype call was made – this time to Jay Honeycutt, the former Director of the Kennedy Space Centre! Jay had been involved in the Moon landing, so obviously the students were keen to ask him questions about that.

Friday 4

After final presentations were made to the mentors who had helped out across the week and to the primary school pupils who had won the design competitions – that was that! Mission Discovery Ayrshire 2016 was over, with ISSET’s Chris Barber declaring it one of the best programmes they have ever been involved in!

Friday 5

 

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Guest Post – Rebecca Jones on anti-sectarianism awareness

Mixing The Colours is a Glasgow Women’s Library project funded by the Scottish Government as part of Action on Tackling Sectarianism. Rebecca Jones is a Project Assistant and was a judge in the College’s recent ‘Pitch Perfect’ competition.

Since 2013, the Glasgow Women’s Library Mixing The Colours: Women Speaking About Sectarianism project has been working with women all over Scotland, offering them the opportunity to share their perceptions and experiences of sectarianism, and to contribute to a new, unique collection of freely accessible resources which tell the story of women’s experiences of sectarianism, both past and present.

The Mixing The Colours: Women Speaking About Sectarianism creative writing anthology was published by Glasgow Women’s Library in March 2015, and features short stories and poetry by some of the women who participated in the project. The Mixing The Colours project now also offers a film, podcasts and a range of multimedia resources, recording and celebrating women’s contribution to the discussion and debate around sectarianism in Scotland over the last three years.


On 9th May 2016 I was delighted to be asked to represent the Mixing The Colours project in judging the Nil By Mouth Pitch Perfect competition in association with Ayrshire College. The competition saw three groups of students from Ayr, Kilmarnock and Kilwinning campuses pitch their ideas for an anti-sectarianism awareness campaign to a panel of three judges.

pitch-perfect-winning-team

Pitch Perfect presented the students with an exciting and challenging brief; not only were they to design a vibrant and viable marketing campaign from the ground up, but they also had to pitch their campaign in a way which would convince the judges of the quality and originality of their research and the mileage of their bespoke anti-sectarianism awareness campaign. I was excited to see what they would come up with.

All three of the groups presented remarkably high quality and original work. The students from Ayr and Kilmarnock campuses pitched two very strong ideas for mobile phone apps offering a variety of resources and functions to help inform users about what sectarianism is and what they can do to tackle it, while the group from Kilwinning campus pitched a campaign encouraging fellow students to think about the consequences of comments they make, and the language they use, on social media.

It was both inspiring and encouraging to see that the three groups had really taken the time to research sectarianism, and to think carefully about what their audience would want from an anti-sectarianism campaign. It was clear to me that they had really thought about what kind of campaign that would work best in a college environment, and about how sectarianism impacts on the lives of the people who use college campuses day by day.

All three groups pitched their campaigns in very different ways, and their enthusiasm for their work shone through when they responded to questions put to them by the judges. As Mixing The Colours works to locate women’s voices in discussions about how sectarianism is experienced, I was particularly excited to see that the students recognised that sectarianism affects different people differently, and that it has intersections which include gender and age. This really demonstrated that the students had chosen to ‘unpick’ the issue to truly understand it, and to build their campaigns on the foundation that people are all different, with different stories to tell.

The high standard of all of the pitches made choosing a winner extremely difficult. In the end, the panel agreed that the students from Ayr campus had produced the strongest campaign, pitched in the most original way. Their proposal for a mobile phone app, which offered educational resources and facts about sectarianism and the law, made really original use of film and digital media, and the judges were very impressed that we were actually able to see a prototype of the app in action as part of the pitch! I’m looking forward to seeing how this very talented group of students will now work with Ayrshire College and Nil By Mouth to make their innovative ideas a reality.

My congratulations to all of the students who presented their ideas on 9th May for all of your hard work and commitment – you’ve made a positive and meaningful contribution to improving equality and diversity and challenging bigotry. I also extend my thanks to Sara Turkington and all staff at Ayrshire College and Nil By Mouth for organising this Pitch Perfect competition and for inviting Mixing The Colours to be a part of it!

Space women connect with Ayrshire female STEM students

For National Women in Engineering Day 2016, we are delighted to share the thoughts of three leading women in science and engineering who spent all of last week at Ayrshire College with 200 school pupils and students on the International Space School Educational Trust’s (ISSET) Mission Discovery Programme.

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Sarah Murray is Assistant Division Chief of EVA, Robotic and Crew Systems at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). On Monday 13 June, Sarah was the keynote speaker at the launch of Ayrshire Connects – a mentoring network for female STEM students across the college to connect to each other, to students in other colleges and universities, to employers and women in the industry sectors they aspire to enter, and to senior pupils in secondary schools across Ayrshire.

Here’s what Sarah and her colleagues had to say about women in science, technology, engineering and maths.


Sarah Murray, NASA’s Assistant Division Chief of EVA, Robotic and Crew Systems, speaking at the launch of Ayrshire Connects

It was my love of math that sparked the initial interest in electrical engineering for me. When I looked for something to study, the main thing I looked at was ‘where can I use my math?’ And electrical engineering was a great choice.

I am absolutely impressed by how Ayrshire College is engaging with young females into STEM. Especially when looking at the statistics that were shown of the small percentage of women in mathematics, technology and engineering.

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I thought it was a great idea to bring these young women together so they can network and hear my story. If they got something out of it – and it seems like they did – then I’m really glad I was able to inspire them. This is a great venue for an event like this.

If they could take just one thing from my talk it would be: know what your goals are and no matter what bumps you hit in the road, just get over them and keep pushing. You need support, determination, and perseverance to reach your goals. You’re always going to run into obstacles so whether you go over them, under them, or through them, don’t let them deter you.


Rhonda Foale, who worked at NASA for eight years, speaking during Mission Discovery 

I remember Neil Armstrong walking on the moon on my 11th birthday. That was really exciting.

I was really interested in Geology and the University of Houston had Space Geology, which I thought was fascinating. So, when the Space Science programme became known to me I was thrilled about that.

I worked for NASA for eight years in the Remote Manipulator System section. The arm was physically connected to the Space Shuttle and it would be used to lift things out of the cargo bay and then deploy them into space. I worked space missions in Mission Control and I also worked with the Canadians for a visual system that would help the astronauts use the arm to put the Space Station together. I enjoyed NASA very much. NASA has a great, almost family like atmosphere to work in.

I’ve also worked in the oil industry, which was definitely male dominated. It’s really good to just do your best, you don’t want them to treat you differently – you just want them to treat you professionally. Do your job really well. A woman is perfectly capable of doing these jobs. NASA, being a government agency, automatically want to set a good example, so they seek out women and minorities. It’s very fulfilling working on teams towards really interesting goals. Women can do it and it’s very rewarding.

My advice to young women would be to at least consider science and engineering. Because there are fascinating things you can do that can allow you to have a really fulfilling career in many fields. Come to a space school and get a great experience, learn to work in teams and give presentations. It’s something that you can try and be amazed by how much you like it.

I’ve been working loosely with Scottish space schools for about 15 years, and I’ve seen students get really enthusiastic and say “I never even considered this before, I didn’t realise and now I’m so glad I came to this because now I see all of these opportunities that are open to me”. We hear from these students after a year and they’ve just really blossomed and love what they’re doing.


Julie Keeble, Chief Scientist with ISSET, speaking at the launch of Ayrshire Connects

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First of all, I’d like to say this is probably the best Women in STEM event that I’ve been to during my career!

Having someone like Sarah Murray – who’s so inspirational to me (and I’ve been working in space for a while) – there’s no doubt that the students would have got something from it in what you can do if you believe in yourself and you keep on trying. If you don’t give up, and go through every door that opens, try your hardest in any position you do regardless of the tasks, you will get somewhere.

Last week one day I was part of a team scooping eggs off the floor, another week I’m sending experiments to the International Space Station. Working as a team means doing every part of that job that helps the team as a whole – regardless of what level the job is. People notice that you work hard and you never know where that will take you.

Events like Mission Discovery are excellent for young women. These events were not available to me when I was younger and so my career options were very narrow as a result of that – I had to get to university before I knew which options were available. To have young people from schools and Ayrshire College being able to see what is possible is brilliant. It shouldn’t be that you have to wait until you’re in your 20’s before you realise what you want to do. These events help you determine that at an earlier age and then you can look forward to having those aspirations.

The ISSET Mission Discovery programme encourages students to believe in their dreams, to work in their teams and believe that anything is possible. At the end of this week’s Mission Discovery – one of these teams will be having their experiment sent up to the International Space Station. You can’t beat that. What I say to winning students is – when you apply to university and apply for jobs, when they see on your CV that you’ve sent an experiment to the International Space Station – you’re going to get an interview!

Mission Discovery changes lives, regardless of whether the students taking part win the final prize or not. Everyone who enters the programme is a winner because they change over the week. They get team building skills, they increase their confidence, and we have different pupils on Friday to the ones who came on Monday. I still get inspired by Mission Discovery programme, and I’ve done several of the programmes, but it never fails to make me feel like we’re changing lives.


If you would like to find out more about Ayrshire Connects please contact Jackie Galbraith at jackie.galbraith@ayrshire.ac.uk

Raising the profile of our female engineering apprentices

Ayrshire College supports over 800 apprentices each year, mainly in the STEM sectors of engineering, automotive and construction. National Women in Engineering Day is on Thursday 23 June with a theme of raising profiles. In this blog post we highlight some of our female engineering apprentices.

Raising the profiles of women in traditionally male-dominated occupations is very important in helping young girls imagine themselves in those roles. The following film captures how, early on in their education, children already define career opportunities as male and female.

Probably the best way for young women to decide if a career in engineering is the right one for them is to hear from other young women who have made that choice and are building careers in the sector. Click on the photos below to meet some of our science, technology, engineering and construction students.

Want more? Watch these short films.

Abbie Robb, Prestwick Aircraft Maintenance Ltd 

Anna Manson, Spirit Aerosystems

Kirsty Harvey, Woodward Inc.

Chloe Grieg, GlaxoSmithKline

Tammy Niven, GlaxoSmithKline

Megan Forrest, Hyspec Engineering


NWED

Do we give girls a real choice?

Talat Yaqoob is Director of Equate Scotland, the national expert on women in science, engineering, technology and the built environment. Equate Scotland’s team works with colleges, universities, employers, women and girls to increase the number of women studying and working in STEM.

As we approach National Women in Engineering Day 2016, Talat asks ‘do we give girls a real choice?’


For a number of years now, Scotland has prioritised increasing the number of women in science, engineering, technology and the built environment. This is for two reasons; firstly because we have a huge skills shortage in Scotland. By 2020 we need 140,000 more engineers, if we do not engage some of the 51% of the population who are women, that is a target we will never meet. Secondly, because it is the economically sensible thing to do. Scotland’s economy is growing but it is growing in the STEM industries the most, to capitalise on this, of course we will need more women. The Royal College of Edinburgh estimates that an equal number of women in the STEM industry is worth around £71 million to the Scottish economy.

So for all those reasons, our work is vital. But I often still get asked, if girls are not interested – why are you pushing them into STEM? Maybe they simply choose to do other subjects? The reality of course is a problem with the word “choice”.

From birth we stereotype children. Think of the aisles in a toy shop or children’s clothing shop – what do you notice? Rows dedicated to “boy things” and rows dedicated to “girl things”. The boys’ things will be blue, will involve physical activity and often some form of construction or cars. The girls’ things will be pink, will be about caring, cooking or appearance and will not be as intellectually stimulating. Is that real choice? If a girl sees a science kit she is interested in, but the packaging has a boy on it and phrases like “rocket making – the sky is the limit for boys” (that is real, by the way) would that girl look at it and purchase it despite its stereotyping? Or internalise it and think that the toy is not for her?

Later in life, as young women and men make subject choices these stereotypes remain as key influencers over them. Girls have grown up thinking science and maths are too tough for them, and boys have grown up thinking arts or home economics is not right for them. This thinking is of course wrong but, when those are the messages you have had from birth, it is a lot to expect a 15 year old young person to defy them. Last year, 76% of the students taking SCQF 6-7 in physics were boys, 82% of computing at the level were boys and 64% of pupils in product design were boys. At this point the “choice” has already been restricted for what girls can move into at college and university level. What we do see, however, is that for the small number of girls who take these subjects they outperform boys academically – busting the age old myth that science or maths is too tough for girls.

When making career “choices” women students, regardless of having excelled in the needed subjects, are still channelled into sciences which have a higher intake of women already; life science, biology, veterinary science and medicine. Engineering, chemistry, physic, computing and built environment are rarely promoted to them.

So back to the original question; maybe girls simply choose to do other subjects?

We can clearly see that they are making a decision from a restricted number of choices – can we truly call this choice at all? It is not a natural occurrence that only 24% of 16 year old girls take physics. If we were to remove institutionalised attitudes, this would be much closer to 50%. Our job is to re-think these attitudes and not push girls into STEM subjects, but rather give them a real and diverse choice in the first place, choices which include all options, whether childcare or chemistry.

We owe it to girls with an interest and ambition to pursue STEM and we owe it to the future of Scotland’s economy to give girls a real choice.

Thursday is National Women in Engineering Day and, whilst we celebrate the girls and women pursuing engineering, we need to highlight the hundreds more who could be pursuing it had we given them engineering as an option from the start.

Ayrshire College has taken the issue of Women in STEM seriously and I am very excited that Equate Scotland will be working closely with the college. The recent #ThisAyrshireGirlCan campaign has been a source of inspiration for many, and I know that it will have switched on a light for many girls who thought science and engineering wasn’t for them. Every time we switch on that light, we erase outdated stereotypes a little more and open up the world of STEM to the talents and creativity of women across Scotland.


 

Tackling gender imbalance in colleges and universities – whose job is it anyway?

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) held a workshop on 31 May 2016 to share the findings of research carried out by the Higher Education Academy which mapped the approaches being used to address gender imbalance in Scotland’s colleges and universities, to assess what approaches work best and why. The findings of the research are outlined in a report, Whose Job is it Anyway? Analysis of approaches to tackling gender imbalances at the subject level in Scotland’s colleges and universities.

The aim of the research was to:

  • Map initiatives in Scotland’s colleges and universities to tackle gender imbalances
  • Assess what approaches work best and why
  • Assess what approaches don’t work and understand what lessons can be learned
  • Recommend actions to achieve sustained improvements.

One of the key objectives in Ayrshire College’s 2014-17 Strategic Plan is to challenge gender stereotyping in career and learning choices. Significant efforts have been made on this priority for action over the past two years, and the work the College is doing to tackle gender imbalance in subject areas like care, engineering and computing was referenced extensively throughout the Higher Education Academy report.

At the workshop representatives from colleges, universities, NUS Scotland, Skills Development Scotland, Equate Scotland, the Equality Challenge Unit and the College Development Network heard presentations from Fiona Burns, Access Policy Lead at SFC and from the author of the research report, Dr Pauline Hanesworth from the Higher Education Academy.

Vice Principal Jackie Galbraith, a member of the SFC Gender Steering Group, took part in the workshop, along with Angela Alexander, Ayrshire College Student President and Jane Henderson, the College’s Developing the Young Workforce Manager.

In this article, Jackie outlines the challenges we are trying to address, summarises the conclusions of the report and describes the approach taken by Ayrshire College to tackling gender imbalance.


The context and the challenge

In June 2016, statistical publications from Skills Development Scotland (Modern Apprenticeship Statistics Full Year Report 2015/16) and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (Annual Statistics Report 2015) demonstrated that there is still much to do to address gender imbalance in Modern Apprenticeship frameworks, college courses and subject qualifications at school.

Scotland’s youth employment strategy, Developing the Young Workforce, has a KPI (key performance indicator) to reduce the number of Modern Apprenticeship frameworks with a 75:25 or worse gender balance to 60% of  frameworks by 2021. In 2015/16, 74% of MA frameworks had a gender balance of 75:25 or worse.

For colleges, one of the KPIs is to increase by five percentage points the minority gender share in each of the ten largest and most imbalanced subjects by 2021. These are long-term targets which rely on shifting deeply ingrained social and cultural factors. As an illustration of the challenge, look at female and male entries to Higher National Certificates/Diplomas in 2015.  The challenge continues at university and the following diagram, based on figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency published in February 2016, shows that the numbers of female graduates in areas like the physical sciences, computing and the built environment declined in 2015 compared to the previous year.


So, we have a problem. At a time when high quality, high value jobs abound in sectors like digital, the built environment and engineering, these industries persistently fail to attract women – despite considerable efforts by many employers and others to address this. Similarly, jobs growth in the early years sector is clear and the value of having more men in that sector is increasingly understood – yet the number of males continues to be low.

Enter the Scottish Funding Council’s gender action plan.

The SFC Gender Action Plan 

Fiona Burns outlined the ambitions set out in the Scottish Funding Council’s interim Gender Action Plan which was published in February 2016. By 2020, SFC is asking all colleges and universities to ensure that:

  • Actions to improve gender equality are mainstreamed
  • There are targeted approaches to tackling underrepresentation at a subject level
  • All widening participation initiatives will be focused on achieving more admissions from males and females.

By 2030, SFC is asking all colleges and universities to ensure that no subject has an extreme gender imbalance (75:25) and universities to reduce the gap between males and females in undergraduate study to five percentage points.

Fiona invited workshop participants to identify the key messages from the report that are of most useful in tackling gender imbalances, and what the SFC should do to enable the sectors to use the research to shape policy and practice. The outcomes from discussions on the day will inform the final version of the Gender Action Plan which is due to be published later in the summer.

Research findings

Dr Pauline Hanesworth presented the findings and recommendations of the research project, describing a framework of action. Seven themes for tackling gender imbalance effectively emerged in the research. These were:

  1. Strategic approaches – adopt a stronger strategic oversight that could maximise staff capacity and impact potential
  2. Mechanisms for success – capitalise on existing mechanisms
  3. Evidencing impact – develop understanding of what the results of tackling gender imbalances look like
  4. External enablers – connect to external activity
  5. Student involvement – support for the continuity and capacity of students as partners in tackling gender imbalances
  6. Cross-sector support – colleges and universities learning from each other’s specific experiences and expertise
  7. Subject focus – focus on all subject imbalances.

A framework for action, represented in the diagram below, was offered for consideration.


At the centre of the framework is a commitment to support subject choice and challenge gender stereotypes. Two foundations are required to support this commitment – institutional infrastructure and sector support.

1. Institutional infrastructure

  • Systems for strategic oversight and institutional commitment
  • Staff development and resource support
  • Mechanisms to develop and support effective relationships.

2. Sector support

  • Mechanisms for collaborative partnership working
  • Capacity and finance
  • Further research and resources.

Supporting these foundations are four areas of focus:

  1. Influencing the influencers
  2. Raising awareness and impacting on aspirations
  3. Encouraging applications
  4. Supporting student success

Finally, a number of enablers in the outer circle of the framework diagram were identified to ensure successful application of the model.

The main recommendations in the report are that colleges and universities should:

1. Develop institutional commitment to tackle student gender participation imbalances

2. Develop the capacity and motivation of all staff to tackle student gender participation imbalances

3. Adopt a theory of change methodology for the development of approaches

4. Develop holistic and longitudinal approaches that support young people throughout their educational choice process

5. Adopt a multi-pronged approach that combines the four areas of focus described above

6. Support student involvement in approaches through the development of student-led, student/staff co-created and student-delivered initiatives

7. Work in collaboration with other institutions and in partnership with other sectors

In addition, national sector agencies are encouraged to:

8. Develop a national campaign and strategy for tackling of gender inequality

9. Create a virtual and physical hub of and for practitioners tackling student gender participation imbalances

10. Broaden the remits of sector agencies and organisations to support the gender equality work of colleges and universities


The Ayrshire College approach

So, whose job is it to tackle gender imbalance in college and university courses? The Higher Education Academy report reached the conclusion that it is all of our jobs.

We agree, and well before this research was conducted we were already making progress on the recommendations subsequently outlined for colleges. Tackling inequalities underpins all of the College’s strategic documents including our Outcome Agreement and our work to address gender imbalance in careers and learning choices takes many forms.

Sparking an interest in STEM at a young age is very important and the College does this in a range of ways, for example by supporting Primary Engineer in primary schools, by running CoderDojo coding clubs (including girls-only clubs) for young people from the age of 7 and by organising STEM workshops for female pupils in college campuses. This interest in STEM needs to be sustained throughout primary and secondary school and onto college, and influencing those who influence young people’s subject and career choices is vital. For example, at our recent annual employers’ dinner the theme was tackling gender stereotypes in careers.

Central to our approach to tackling gender imbalance is working with students and we support the Ayrshire College Student Association’s  #ThisAyrshireGirlCan campaign to encourage women to study for careers which are traditionally dominated by men in areas like engineering, technology and construction. In March 2016, in partnership with the College, the Student Association created a film to celebrate female STEM students.

Working in partnership with local, regional and national organisations is important in tackling gender imbalance and underpins the Ayrshire College approach. Supported with funding from Skills Development Scotland, we produced a video series #WhatIActuallyDo to tackle gender imbalance in STEM apprenticeships by raising awareness of what apprentices actually do in their jobs. The short films featured five female engineering apprentices working in Hyspec Engineering, GSK, Prestwick Aircraft Maintenance, Spirit Aerosystems and Woodward. As well as interviews with the apprentices on what motivated them to pursue their chosen career and short films showing a day in the life of the apprentice, there are interviews with their employers talking about the benefits of apprenticeships to their companies.

The young women in these short films offer positive role models for others. One of the apprentices featured in the video series, Abbie Robb, reached the final for the Interconnect Scotland STEM Student of the Year award – the only apprentice and college student to do so! On International Women’s Day this year, Abbie spoke about her experience as an apprentice aircraft engineer to an audience of over 100 primary and secondary school girls and female STEM students.

When young women embark on STEM courses, we want to ensure they get the best possible experience which builds their confidence in moving on after college in the sector of their choice. On Monday 13 June we launched Ayrshire Connects – a mentoring network for female STEM students across the College to connect to each other, to students in other colleges and universities, to employers and women in the industry sectors they aspire to enter, and to senior pupils in secondary schools across Ayrshire. We are looking forward to working with Equate Scotland to connect the Ayrshire network to Interconnect Scotland.

ayrshire connects

Throughout the year, the College takes every opportunity to promote women in STEM by organising events and social media campaigns, for example around Girls in ICT Day in April every year and Ada Lovelace Day in October. Look out for new stories on our blog leading up to National Women in Engineering Day (#NWED16) on 23 June.

And, it’s not just about supporting women in male-dominated areas – we also have sustained activity to encourage boys and men into female-dominated sectors like care through our #ThisManCares campaign.

Follow us on social media to find out more about how we are tackling gender imbalance or get in touch with me at jackie.galbraith@ayrshire.ac.uk – we would love to hear from you.


Want to know more? Click on the links below

Whose Job is it Anyway? Higher Education Academy report

SFC Interim Gender Action Plan

Alison Malcolm, SFC Policy Officer – blog post on the SFC Gender Action Plan

#ThisManCares – Ayrshire College campaign to attract men into courses and careers in care

#ThisAyrshireGirlCan – Ayrshire College Student Association campaign to promote women in STEM

#WhatIActuallyDo – Ayrshire College video campaign highlighting female apprentices in science and engineering