It is well known in the UK that present Members of Parliament are drawn overwhelmingly from privileged educational backgrounds – 35% have attended independent fee paying schools, and 90% have undergraduate degrees. Since 1950 only three UK Prime-Ministers did not have degrees, all the others except one had degrees from Oxford – including Margaret Thatcher. Only Margaret Thatcher had a degree in SET, and even more rare, she had worked as a chemist in a commercial company. The others – all men- had degrees in subjects that seemed to prepare them for politics and little else: PPE, law, history, Latin and Greek, oriental languages. In 2010 7% of women UK members of parliament had SET degrees and 11% of men. Our political representatives have never represented the educational backgrounds of the electorate – either in type of educational institution they attended or in the subjects they studied, but just becuase they never have done is no reason for hoping that they might in the future. The signs don’t look hopeful.
Recent discussions with friends about Margaret Thatcher, and her training as a chemist led to me wondering whether it is rarer for a Head of State to be a woman or to be someone trained in some aspect of science, engineering, or technology (SET).
A quick review of the qualifications of recent female Heads of State, suggest that being a woman and having a SET qualification is very rare. My list of 20 below shows only one woman with a clear STEM qualification: Angela Merkel- she is another Chemist, and one: Gro Harlem Brundtland who has a medical degree.
- Angela Merkel – German Chancellor- (German Doctorate in Quantum Chemistry)
- Aung San Suu Kyi, -Opposition leader Burma- ( India, degree in politics, UK degree in philosophy politics, and economics, UK degree in Burmese literature)
- Benazir Bhutto – PM Pakistan- ( US degrees in comparative government and law, UK degree in philosophy politics, and economics)
- Corazon Aquino – Pres Phillipines- (US degree Maths/ French- joint degree)
- Dame Eugenia Charles – PM Dominica- (Canada and UMK degrees in law)
- Golda Meir -PM Israel- (US teacher qualification)
- Gro Harlem Brundtland, – PM Norway- ( Norway Degree medical doctor, US degree public health)
- Helen Clark – PM New Zealand- ( NZ degrees in politics)
- Hillary Rodham Clinton -not quite US president- ( US degrees in political science and law)
- Indira Ghandi – PM India- ( studied in UK for degree in history, politics and economics- never graduated)
- Isabel Perón -Pres. Argentina- ( no higher ed)
- Julia Gillard -PM Australia- ( Australia, law degree )
- Mary Robinson -PM Ireland- ( Ireland, and US Degrees in law)
- Sheikh Hasina Wajed -PM Bangaldesh- ( BA Univ Bangladesh)
- Sirimavo Bandaranaike – PM Sri Lanka- worlds first female PM- ( no higher education),
- Tansu Çiller -PM Turkey -( US degrees in economics)
- Tarja Kaarina Halonen – PM Finland- ( Finland degrees in law)
- Vaira Vike-Freiberga, – PM Latvia- ( Canadian degrees in psychology)
- Vigdís Finnbogadóttír – PM Iceland- ( French degrees in French literature , Danish degree history of theatre)
- Violeta Barrios de Chamorro – PM Nicaragua- ( No higher ed)