Indian STEM Students’ Ratio In Italy Shows Gender Disparity

Indian STEM Students’ Ratio In Italy Shows Gender Disparity

This inequality emphasises the necessity for specific initiatives aimed at promoting female participation in these key areas of study

Simple VishwakarmaUpdated: Friday, July 12, 2024, 11:17 PM IST
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Indian STEM Students’ Ratio In Italy Shows Gender Disparity | Unsplash

Italy is becoming a popular destination for Indian students pursuing higher education. The gender distribution of Indian students in Italy is fairly even, with females making up 48% and males 52%. This reflects a broader trend of inclusivity, but a closer examination of specific fields reveals significant discrepancies, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

Gender disparity in STEM fields

Despite achieving overall gender balance, STEM fields in Italy exhibit a significant contrast, with male students comprising 73% and females only accounting for 27% of Indian students. These statistics, provided by Uni-Italia, the Official Italian Center for the Promotion of Italian Higher Education in Italy, highlight a global problem where women are inadequately represented in STEM fields. 

This inequality emphasises the necessity for specific initiatives aimed at promoting female participation in these key areas of study, thereby ensuring a diverse and inclusive pool of talent.

Insights from Indian Academics

Prof Shubhabrata Basu, the chairperson of the Industry Interface Office at IIM Indore, offers a nuanced perspective on gender disparity. 

“Disparity is a social construct. It can result from socio-economic as well as infrastructural factors,” Prof Basu explains. He acknowledges the slow yet steady dissipation of gender disparity and said, “Gender disparity in the Indian educational system is slowly and steadily dissipating, with some of the institutions, like some of the IIMs showing evidence of ‘positive discriminations’, meaning the system is positively skewed in favour of girl students over boys.”

Prof Basu also highlights the dual roles of women in society—both within the home and as active providers—which are becoming increasingly recognised and valued. 

“While the role of the girl inside the home is uncontested, her role as an active ‘provider/bread earner’ is also becoming eminently evident. These two aspects are likely to eliminate the last vestiges of discrimination against girls," he mentioned. 

However, he also foresees potential future challenges, noting that in another decade or so, society might face issues related to under-educated and unemployed boys, across various social and caste structures. 

"In my opinion, in another decade or so, we may have to face a more serious societal challenge from under-educated, under-privileged, under/un-employed ‘boys’, cutting across social/caste structures. How to pre-empt such an emergent challenge remains to be seen," he adds.   

Policy changes and opportunities

In December 2023, a significant policy change was made to benefit Indian students in Italy. Italy agreed to extend the stay for students completing their degrees by an additional 12 months. This decision came after the Union Cabinet's retrospective approval of the migration and mobility agreement between India and Italy, overseen by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

While speaking with The Free Press Journal (FPJ) in August 2023, Professor Francesco Profumo, who previously served as the Minister of Education in Italy and currently holds the position of Rector at the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT), expressed optimism about the future. He said, "Looking ahead to the year 2030, our projections indicate an increase in online students to around 15% and a potential rise in Indian students studying at Italian universities, possibly reaching up to 40%.

Acknowledging this disparity in the statistics, Arkaprabha Biswas, Uni-Italia's New Delhi-based manager, said, “The limitation within these statistics sometimes lies in the pre-existing narrative that tends to decide, on many occasions, the numeric outcome as an obvious by-product of a trend traditionally set by the society. Since the Italian HEI has the competence to cater to the Indian students only going for higher studies, it has a limitation in terms of influencing the gender-specific interests and preferences externally, that get decided internally before they opt to venture for higher academics.”

Currently, the Italian visa system includes provisions for under-graduation programmes, post-graduation opportunities, single cycle masters, PhD and postdoctoral programmes, summer schools, internships, and professional training under the Flows Decree.

This change allows Indian students to gain initial professional experience in Italy for up to a year after graduating. Additionally, the Italian government has introduced provisions for professional training, extracurricular internships, and curricular internships that align with Italian standards.

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