Latest enrollment numbers at Qatar University: Big gender imbalance

October 18, 2010 at 2:29 pm 13 comments

John Impagliazzo at Qatar University just sent me some striking numbers about enrollment in their computing programs for this semester, which he said that I could share here:


Computer Science: 39 males, 94 females.

Computer Engineering: 0 males, 128 females
(Computer Engineering not yet offered on men’s campus, only on women’s campus)


MS in Computing: 14 males, 23 females

Why is the gender difference so shifted in Qatar as compared with US and Europe?  Do these students have a different perception or definition of the field than do students here in the United States?  Or are they deciding based on other factors than whether CS is “nerdy/geeky” or not?  While the Computer Science and MS numbers are amazing, I find the huge numbers for Computer Engineering just as interesting and even more puzzling.  Why would Computer Engineering be an even bigger draw than Computer Science?

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Joe Crumpton  |  October 19, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Don’t discount the value associated with the program name. My wife teaches in an interior design program. They can not attract males to the major. Other schools have changed the name to “interior architecture”. Same content and classes but those programs attract many more males.

    Our (Mississippi State) computer engineering program is attracting many more students (including females) than our computer science program even though our computer science program is in the engineering college. I believe there is still a premium placed on a degree that says engineer as opposed to science.


    • 2. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  October 19, 2010 at 3:39 pm

      As a computer science PhD who taught for many years in a computer engineering department, I can say that there can be a major difference in pedagogy and course content, not just rebranding as Joe implies.

      The computer engineering curriculum I worked in was a balanced mix of hardware and software content, focused on making digital systems that worked, while CS focused more on science (theory of computation, analysis of algorithms, comparative programming languages, formal language theory, …). Even now, most computer engineering curricula end with a major design project (usually involving several students for multiple semesters), while CS curricula tend to become more and more like pure math in the senior year.

      The boundary between the disciplines is fuzzy, and often the same work can be viewed as either computer science or computer engineering. Students are more likely to encounter a CS program than a CE program in the US, but a properly-designed CE program provides a broader base of more applicable knowledge. (That said, a lot of the CE programs out there are just rebranded EE programs specializing in digital hardware, and they often suffer even more from rigid, narrow curricula than CS programs.)

      I started out interested in pure math and gradually have become more and more applied over the years. I can now see the attraction of starting in an applied field, though it would not have attracted me when I started.

      • 3. Joe  |  October 19, 2010 at 10:02 pm

        I probably should have separated my earlier post to prevent any confusion. The first paragraph is referring to the affect that merely renaming a program can have. An “Interior Architecture” program has no trouble attracting males while an identical “Interior Design” program will be majority (99%) female.

        The second paragraph was just relating information about female enrollment in the Computer Engineering and Computer Science programs here at Mississippi State. There are some significant differences between the programs such as the senior design project and more hardware courses (and less theory and programming) for Computer Engineering.

        I find it interesting that there are more females in our Computer Engineering program than our Computer Science program. Since both programs are now in the engineering college and we share a significant number of classes I attribute the differences to
        1) more females are interested in hardware than theory (do first year students know they “like” hardware or “dislike” theory?)
        2) our Electrical and Computer Engineering department is doing a better job at outreach and recruiting than the Computer Science and Engineering department (definitely possible)
        3) the name of the program makes a difference (prospective students and parents value “engineering” over “science”)

  • 4. Alan Kay  |  October 20, 2010 at 11:49 am

    If there is something that is drawing women, then yay!

    It would be great to create an “engineering” curriculum that really encompasses the truly core of computing, and I think this can be done pretty easily by just heeding what “modern engineering” is all about.



  • 5. Thad Crews  |  October 20, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    There seem to be similarities between physics and computer science in that they both provide a strong foundation in an area of scientific knowledge and understanding that is necessary for other disciplines. For example:
    Physics –> Chemistry/Biology –> Medicine
    Physics –> Engineering

    In a similar way, computer science provides a strong foundation in an area of scientific/computing knowledge that is necessary for other disciplines. For example:
    CS –> Information Systems
    CS –> Computer Engineering
    CS –> Software Engineering

    What is not clear is “how much physics is required for a chemistry/biology/pre-med/engineering major?” The more physics the better the foundation, but clearly a double-major in physics is not required for these other disciplines.

    In the same way, are there aspects of computer science that are essential for information systems/computer engineering/software engineering (but without requiring a double-major in CS)?

    Or is this line of questioning completely off-base and inappropriate?

  • 6. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  October 20, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    The most recent statistics I see (Fall 2008) for our school of engineering are

    CS (male) 69.5
    CS (female) 9 (11%)

    CE (male) 98
    CE (female) 13 (12%)

    EE (male) 57.5
    EE (female) 5 (8%)

    game design (male) 120
    game design (female) 11 (8%)

    bioinformatics (male) 17
    bioinformatics (female) 4 (19%)

    I see no significant gender differences beteen CS and CE here, and EE is lower fraction female than either, so neither the “engineering” name nor a hardware emphasis seems to be particularly attractive to female students.

    I think that if you see a large difference somewhere in gender balance between CS and CE, it is due to some location-specific phenomenon (like a particularly popular teacher or effective outreach program, or a difference in degree requirements).

    Game design seems to be even worse at attracting female students than straight CS here.

    • 7. Mark Guzdial  |  October 20, 2010 at 8:17 pm

      That last observation is pretty common. Every game design sequence I’ve seen is more gender segregated than straight CS. Your data, though, highlights what’s striking about the Qatar data. Why is it so different there? It’s not a one-year phenomenon — the program was mostly female when I visited last year, too. And I understand that these percentages are common in the Middle East.

      BTW, uh, how do you end up with non-integer numbers of students? Is this like the mythical 0.3 child in the 2.3 children per nuclear family of the 80’s?

      • 8. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  October 21, 2010 at 5:46 pm

        These are head-count statistics and double majors are counted as 0.5 for each major. Double majors are fairly common for CS here, since students want to learn an application area along with the core computer stuff.

  • 9. Lisa Kaczmarczyk  |  October 21, 2010 at 1:44 am

    A quick comment. This seems like not new news, but no one has mentioned it, so I’ll point it out. There has been a lot of evidence that women (and I can only speak here for the US), including my own observations, prefer a degree program where they perceive that they can “create” something “real”. The term “engineering” transmits that impression and in cases where an engineering program ends with a large project, the impression is reinforced. CS programs do not transmit that same impression in many cases. Note that we are talking impressions that students carry, which may or may not be accurate depending upon the program one looks at.

  • 10. Bonnie MacKellar  |  October 21, 2010 at 8:52 am

    The reason for the gender imbalance in Qatar is very simple – these women have few options. They are bucking the system just to get to the university, and they need to choose a major where they are guaranteed a job. It is the same reason you see more women majoring in computing in countries like India than in the United States. Women in the US simply have many more options for careers, and even more importantly, they haven’t had to fight their family and society in general in order to go to a university.

  • 11. jjjj  |  June 8, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    The reaso is not one of the above. In Qatar University we women and men have different programs. In Qatar University they didn’t open Computer Engineering for mens. Because the managment are lasy.

  • 12. Angee  |  April 6, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    If you say that things have changed and the schools are now co-ed, why is it that there are still an abundance of single gendered courses? Why is the enrollmnet percentile of men so low?

  • […] all capable of learning computer science.  They didn’t have to make a biological argument.  In the Middle East and many other parts of the world, computer science is female-dominated. Clearly, it’s not biology.  (Perhaps surprisingly, I […]


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