STEM and Belief in UK and USA Higher Education
International Research Network for the Study of Science & Belief in Society
Value to Coventry University
PI: Dr Lucy Peacock (Centre for Trust Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University)
Co-I: Dr Tiffani Riggers-Piehl (School of Education, University of Missouri – Kansas City)
1st July 2022 – 30th June 2023
US research reveals a significant relationship between university STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) disciplines and the development of students’ religious or spiritual characteristics and interfaith competencies. Yet, in the UK, as university applications for STEM disciplines hit a record high, little research has considered belief diversity (defined as the diversity of religious, spiritual or non-religious traditions, positions or worldviews, including unbelief) in STEM, despite disparities in the number of STEM student applicants from religious backgrounds. To promote meaningful university STEM opportunities for underrepresented belief groups, this mixed mehthods project seeks to better understand how to foster STEM environments inclusive of belief diversity.
The project’s research questions are fourfold:
- How do UK STEM students’ lived experiences of belief intersect with their identities as scientists?
- How do UK STEM students’ attitudes and behaviours in relation to belief diversity change during one academic year in comparison to US STEM students?
- How do different aspects of UK and US university life impact STEM students’ interfaith learning and development?
- What are the implications of our learning for fostering STEM university experiences inclusive of belief diversity?
Universities are influential sites for belief and attitude development. Trends over the past decade reveal a significant increase in UK university student enrolments, from just below 2,000,000 in 2000/01, to just over 2,500,000 in 2019/20 (HESA 2021). As of September 2021, 272,500 individuals, or 37.9% of the UK 18 year-old population, were due to begin university, an increase of 7% on 2020 (UCAS 2021). Record numbers of students are taking STEM subjects; acceptances to computer science degrees have risen by 50%, and engineering 21% since 2011 (Gov.uk 2021). Through original research into how to enhance inter and intra-faith relations among UK STEM students, better equipping them to relate respectfully to those with a different outlook, this project will provide avenues to improve the experience of STEM students from diverse belief backgrounds and promote participation and retention in higher education STEM disciplines. Moreover, international collaboration within the project team, and comparative analysis of data collected in the US, will enable us to demonstrate similarities and differences of experiences for STEM students in two Western higher education environments and consider how different national influences might play into these observations.