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Gender gap at UK universities has widened, UCAS study shows

ByRachel Whitford

Jan 16, 2016

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has published new statistics showing that the gender gap has almost doubled between female and male students in the past eight years.

The study finds that across the UK, female students outnumber their male counterparts in 112 out of 180 degree subjects and that women are 35 per cent more likely to attend university than men.

The gap between males and females from working class backgrounds is even wider with female pupils 50 per cent more likely to attend university.

The widest gender gap within degree subjects is in nursing in which students are 90.5 per cent female. The data also shows that courses in education and social work are particularly female dominated as well.

Professor Charlotte Clarke, Head of the School of Health in Social Science, spoke to The Student about the steps being made by the University of Edinburgh to tackle this issue.

“Our current action plan addressing this identifies the need to better understand why those male applicants that we do have are less likely to be offered and accept a place than female students”, she told The Student.

“There is also the risk that men become increasingly discouraged from applying to what they see as female dominated [subjects] and be possibly the only man in a student group – so a vicious cycle is created.”

She added that within nursing and clinical psychology professions, “although the proportion of men is much lower than women, they do tend to progress more strongly in their careers such that more senior posts in the professions have a closer gender balance than entry to the professions would indicate.”

However, there are still a number of degree subjects at British universities in which the number of male students is higher than the number of female students.

The subject that male students outnumber female students to the highest degree is computer science, in which there are 13.085 per cent more men than women.

Professor Jane Hillston, from the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Edinburgh, told The Student: “Computer science is a discipline which has always been male dominated, and despite several decades of initiatives which try to improve the situation there has been very little progress.”

Hillston told The Student that the news of widening gender gaps within UK universities was “very worrying”.     The University of Edinburgh has put in “a lot of effort to support the female students with events like the annual Lovelace Colloquium for undergraduate and taught postgraduate students, which provides networking opportunities and access to role models, including interaction with potential employers” Hillston told The Student.

Other subjects in which male students outnumber female students include mechanical engineering, sports science, electrical engineering and economics.

Speaking to The Student, a spokesperson for the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) said: “Closing gender gaps in subjects is important, but not as important as the fact that males will significantly out-earn female and non-binary graduates.

“As well as increasing the number of gender studies courses available I’ve been pushing academics across the University to make sure their assigned reading lists are more gender balanced, and we’re also holding a Gender Jam event during Innovative Learning week to explore the issue of gender inequality in academia.”

Image: UCL Institute of Education

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