Stagnation, decline and gender disparity in participation in NSW HSC mathematics and science combinations


  • Rachel Wilson Faculty of Education and Social Work, The University of Sydney
  • John Mack University of Sydney
  • Barry Walsh deceased; posthumous publication


Participation in maths and science has been a longstanding concern in Australia and elsewhere. Historically participation has been reviewed with several campaigns effective in reducing gender disparity by lifting girls’ participation. However there has been no recent account of participation in maths and science that specifically examines subject combinations. We report on mathematics and science subject combination choices made by New South Wales High School Certificate (HSC) students (2001-2011). Participation rates show small declines in the various maths and science combinations possible, however overall these small declines contribute to a substantial decline in the proportion of students undertaking at least one maths and one science subject. In 2001 some 19.7% of boys and 16.8% of girls studied a math/science combination in the HSC however by 2011 only 18.6% of boys and 13.8% of girls studied maths/science. This is equivalent to more than 1000 fewer students studying maths and science in 2011 than in 2001. There is evidence of a growing gender disparity with greater declines among female students. In an era when overall participation has increased; if maths and science shared in this growth we would expect to report rising participation rates. Policy action is needed to redress these trends.