The right parents smooth the path to success

Published Nov 01, 2018

Half of the students who start a Master of Science in Engineering degree, drop out. More would succeed with their studies if they understood the codes for how to study, a KTH survey reveals.

Good knowledge of maths, science and technology when you start is not always enough to get you over the finishing line with a Master of Science in Engineering degree. Being able to fit in with the study culture and knowing what to prioritise and what not to spend your time on in what can at times be a high study tempo, are just as important.

“It is important to feel secure in the environment, to understand the career role and how education works in order to reach the end goal as an engineer. Otherwise, it is easy to give up when you face setbacks,” says Susanne Engström, an Associate Professor and researcher in Education Science and Didactics.

Via a questionnaire sent to Master of Science in Engineering students with two years left of their degree course at eleven universities, she has charted which students are doing well in their studies, what brings success and inspiration and what they want to do after graduating. The responses, that were collated together with data from SCB (Statistics Sweden) paint a picture of nine different student profiles.

Parental support

Several differences between male and female students stand out. Women are motivated by wanting to do something good for society and often choose bioengineering or chemistry. Men aim for the top echelon of the enterprise sector, some, in contrast to the female students, were inspired by their upper secondary school technology programme.

A common denominator for eight out of nine student types is an academic background – almost 80 percent of the students have at least one parent with a higher education, often in engineering. According to the questionnaire responses, the students had been both inspired to study and given support and help by their parents, siblings or other close relatives, during the course of their studies.

“If you have this kind of background, you are in the system from the word go when you start your degree. It is easier to deal with the experience of thinking you do not understand something in maths or what is the point of certain courses – you can seek help at home or in your social network.”

Having a good group of friends to study with and contact with older students that can give you advice and tips are other important success factors, the questionnaire responses reveal.

Breaking patterns

Only half, 51 percent, of students who start an MSc in engineering degree, graduate, according to statistics from SCB. Many drop out because they do not achieve good enough grades, or they feel the course is not for them.

The survey at KTH confirms the picture of which students succeed, that an engineering career often runs in the family, and that many female students eschew traditional male engineering fields. If these patterns are to be broken, universities must treat students in a different way, Engström says:

“Far more students should be able to complete their degree. It is a question of understanding student needs based on their way of thinking, to offer guidance so they have the right approach and an understanding of how courses and subject knowledge fit in, what the common denominator is on the road to acquiring a degree.”

Text: Christer Gummeson

  • The study, published in the International journal of technology and design education, looks at Master of Science in Engineering students mid-way through their degree studies – who they are, why they applied and why they are successful. A questionnaire containing 148 questions was sent to around 4,300 students about to start their fourth academic year in 2012/2013. Some 1,100 students from eleven universities responded. Based on their answers, the students were divided into nine profiles, four female and five male. The academic background of parents plays a crucial role in student success in all profiles except one. In this last profile, that applies to male students, there is often instead one parent, a father, with knowledge of and interest in engineering, that is an important background factor for study success.
  • Drop outs: An SCB report shows that of freshers starting a Degree of Master of Science in Engineering in academic year 2008/2009, 51 percent had completed their degree by the end of academic year 2015/2016. Of the students that had graduated, 44 percent had completed their degree in the normal study period.
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