Gender Gap in UK Universities Grows as Women Outpace Men

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

According to a report entitled "Boys to Men: The Underachievement of Young Men in Higher Education and How to Start Tackling It," the gender gap in the United Kingdom's universities is widening in favor of women.

Research by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that the British men are less likely than women to attend universities. Furthermore, the men who enroll were more likely to drop out, and those who graduate would be less likely to attain as useful a degree.

Back in 1990, 34,000 female students graduating from British universities compared to 43,000 men. Ten years later, in 2000, the positions were reversed — 133,000 women led 110,000 men in completing degrees. According to the latest statistical data from 2015, there were about 300,000 more women in higher education than men.

The difference should not be ignored, experts say. Female students in the UK are now 35% more likely than men to attend universities, writes Sean Coughlan of the BBC — and the gender gap is widening every year. If this trend continues, a baby girl born in 2016 will be 75% more likely to go to university than her brother, says Mary Curnock Cook, the head of UCAS, the university admission service.

According to UCAS, by the January deadline for undergraduate applications this year, 94,000 fewer men than women had applied for admission. Because getting a degree remains the pathway to a well-paid job, Curnock Cook commented that being male could be a new form of disadvantage. In her introductory note to the report, she writes:

"On current trends, the gap between rich and poor will be eclipsed by the gap between males and females within a decade. While there is much focus on social mobility and geographical differences, there is a collective blind spot on the underachievement of young men."

According to Curnock Cook, the increased number of female teachers could be one of the reasons contributing to male students stopping their studies early. As Alex Matthews of the Daily Mail notes, at the moment there are 455,000 teachers at state schools across the country and 74 percent of them are women, compared to the early 1990s when the majority of the teachers were men.

One of the report authors commented to the Guardian's Sally Weale that the unsatisfactory academic performance of the male students was a national scandal and called for immediate attention.

However, the gender gap doesn't hold for all young men in the country. At Oxford and Cambridge, there are more male than female students.

The report suggests that the more disadvantaged a male student is, the more likely he is to fall behind, writes Nick Hillman of The Telegraph. Girls on free school meals are 50 percent more likely to attend universities than boys from similar social circles.

The research also showed that in the neighborhoods where the proportion of students attending college is around the average, fewer than 1 in 10 young white men from unprivileged backgrounds go to university. That doesn't hold for for female students from the same areas, and nearly four times as many women of Asian backgrounds manage to continue their education.

Director of the Office of Fair Access to Higher Education Les Ebdon called the low academic achievement of disadvantaged white men a "shocking and avoidable waste of talent" and urged universities to take urgent measures.

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