Universities step up drive to close gender gap
Source: The Guardian
The gender gulf among undergraduates is growing, with females dominating in medicine, law and biology
Almost a third of universities are now running outreach activities targeted at young men as they try to tackle the growing gender gap in student applications, according to the Office for Fair Access. They are being offered taster subject sessions, talks with role models and mentoring through local football clubs to encourage them to consider a university degree.
Young women were around a third more likely than men to enter university in 2014, according to Ucas, the universities admissions body, and female applicants dominate entrance to courses in medicine, law and biology.
Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, said the gender gap has been driven by the improving performance of girls at school and the expansion of universities to include subjects, such as nursing, that attract more women.
“Girls do much better than boys at GCSE and are more likely to go on to A-level, and they have tended to get better A-level results more or less across the board than boys. They also seem keener to go to university than males, perhaps because they enjoy studying academically more,” he said.
Research released last week warned that white boys from poor families in deprived areas were far less likely than other social groups to study A-levels, with just 29% sitting the exams.
Professor Les Ebdon, director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said the gender disparity is part of a long-term trend in OECD countries. “There are particularly stark gaps in some courses – for example, there are significantly more women than men studying primary school teaching, and 60% of law students are women,” he said. “Conversely, there is still much to do to encourage young women to study Stem [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] subjects.”
Penny Jane Burke, professor of education at University of Roehampton, said the trend was also down to the increased opportunities available to women. “More women are now looking at themselves differently because of a long struggle around women’s right to education. This is a symptom, in a positive way, of all that work.”
But she added that more work needs to be done to tackle gender stereotypes. “University outreach should be doing some of that work,” she said, “But it also needs to be part of the school curriculum early on.”
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