Data analysis in Ireland and Portugal shows a clear link between achievement in mathematics, physics and chemistry at high school, and subsequent achievement in university engineering. This reinforces the practice operating in many ATTRACT partner countries of requiring these subjects for entry to engineering programs. Where they are not (or not all) required, recommendations have been made to ensure students have the required prior achievement in these areas, through the weighting of results in the most relevant subjects.
The particulars of the high school systems vary from country to country, but in all students have some degree of choice over what they study. This can force them to choose quite specialised pathways early on or remain in more broad ones, but even so it is possible in most cases for some students to focus significantly on STEM subjects while others undertake only minimal study of them. An approach whereby all students receive a core level of education in a broad range of subjects, or at least delay the specialisation point until later in their high school career, would ensure that a greater number of students would be eligible to pursue engineering should they wish to instead of being effectively excluded by not possessing the required subjects.
While the issue of how best to widen access to tertiary education is the subject of much debate across Europe, it should be of particular concern to engineering departments. In many ATTRACT partner countries engineering undergraduates are drawn from a particularly narrow sector of the available population. Male students significantly outnumber females in the uptake of engineering places, and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are disproportionately under-represented among engineering students, even by comparison with other disciplines. Merely on the basis of equality this imbalance should not be allowed to continue, but targeting students from these groups also presents an opportunity that should not be ignored for attracting greater numbers of potential students to our engineering programs.