TV & Radio
Thu 4 May 2006
Concern over university gender gap
KEVIN SCHOFIELD EDUCATION CORRESPONDENT
THE number of girls entering higher education is increasing at more than five times the rate of boys, according to figures released yesterday.
Statistics released by the Scottish Executive show that between 1999-2000 and 2004-5, the number of female higher education students increased by 11 per cent to 156,615.
Over the same period the number of male higher education students increased by just 1.4 per cent to 120,090.
The figures are the latest evidence of a widening gender gap within the higher education sector and come despite ministers' attempts to encourage more male school-leavers to go on to university.
Last night, educationists urged the Executive to redouble its efforts to boost the number of boys going to university.
Robin McAlpine, spokesman for the higher education umbrella body Universities Scotland, said it was essential that young males saw entering university as a viable path to take when they left school.
He said: "One of the big successes of the past 20 years has been that Scottish universities are no longer male bastions.
"However, nobody wants the situation to reverse to the extent that men become part of a noticeable minority.
"This is all about ensuring that boys are motivated to learn so that by the age of 16 they are ready, equipped and enthusiastic about applying for university."
The last time men outnumbered women in higher education was back in 1988-9, when 21.5 per cent of young men enrolled in university courses compared to 21.2 per cent of women.
By 1992-3, the proportion of female under 21s in higher education stood at 36.4 per cent, compared with 35.4 per cent of men.
Five years later, the gap had widened to 8 per cent - 50.7 per cent of women and 42.7 per cent of men. The trend has continued since, to the extent that the gap is now wider than at any other time.
Professor John Field, a lecturer in lifelong learning at Stirling University, has warned that, left unchecked, the increasing gender gap could lead to a rise in problems such as antisocial behaviour.
He said: "I would have thought that the scale of the gap is such that further inquiry is pretty urgent, because we don't know what is causing it and what the consequences are.
"It's clearly not a blip, but I think we have been slow to wake up to the fact that it's a long-term trend.
"It is a major problem and it's here to stay unless we do something about it."
The Scottish Funding Council, which is responsible for distributing public funds to universities and colleges, has also expressed concern in the past about the gender gap.
Ministers have resisted the calls for a full investigation into the reasons why so many boys are turned off higher education and yesterday a spokeswoman for the Executive insisted it was committed to addressing the issue.
She said: "It's good news that more women are going into higher education. However, the number of males shows a slight fall this year.
"The Scottish Funding Council is working to address the widening gap and we will work closely with it to monitor progress."
Yesterday's figures also showed that the number of students at Scotland's higher education institutions increased by 1.8 per cent in the past year to 276,705.
The statistics also showed that the number of students from the UK enrolling at Scottish universities had dropped over the past 12 months.
However, the fall was offset by a 15 per increase in the number of new students coming from overseas, particularly countries outside Europe.
China uses Scottish higher education most, with 4,870 of its students attending university in this country in 2004-5.
The figures also showed that subjects allied to medicine and veterinary medicine were most popular with women, whereas engineering and information technology were most popular with men.
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This article: http://news.scotsman.com/education.cfm?id=664212006
Last updated: 04-May-06 01:49 BST