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Sheffield University urged to be radical to boost women in engineering

Carolyn Griffiths, president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers with Stephen Shaw, right,  and Chris Rea of AESSEAL.
Carolyn Griffiths, president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers with Stephen Shaw, right, and Chris Rea of AESSEAL.

The boss of a top South Yorkshire manufacturing firm is demanding Sheffield University make radical changes to combat a huge shortage of women in engineering.

Chris Rea, founder of AESSEAL, urged head of engineering prof Mike Hounslow to “junk the physics” - the need to have ‘A’ level physics for a degree - so more women applied.

He dubbed the subject the “rule-based stuff” claiming it would all be done by computers in future.

And he accused universities of being dominated by middle-aged men who were hide-bound by what they had done themselves.

Prof Hounslow said someone needed to know about engineering principles, such as angular momentum.

But Mr Rea said he had built the “best seal company in the world without knowing about any of that.”

He added: “Engineering is about thinking, I had to know about how to develop people to build this company.”

The extraordinary exchange took place at AESSEAL’s headquarters in Rotherham after a speech by president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Carolyn Griffiths.

Ms Griffiths said just eight per cent of UK engineers were women - a figure “that shames us all.”

But between GCSE and ‘A’ level, the number of girls taking physics “fell off a cliff,” because they were put off by male dominated classrooms.

She said the shortage was also due to unconscious bias against women in western economies, 13 per cent less pay on average and not enough emphasis on men taking parental leave

Ms Griffiths, who had an illustrious career in the rail industry, said: “The pace of change is too slow - if you tapped into the other half of the population maybe it would help a bit.”

AESSEAL pays for a physics catch-up course for engineers at Sheffield University. Mr Rea said he would continue to fund it to get more women into engineering.

The firm also gives money to IMECHE.

Ms Griffiths said: “AESSEAL is unique. It does amazing things in encouraging young people into engineering.”