A new report from an education think tank suggests that higher education in the United Kingdom is increasingly dominated by women — and the effects of the gender imbalance may be far-reaching.
In “Boys to Men: The Underachievement of Young Men in Higher Education and How to Start Tackling It,” the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) says that the gender gap in 2015 favored women by 9.2 percentage points, which translates to a British woman being 35% more likely to go to university than a British man. Based on current trends, a female baby born today is 75% more likely overall to attend university than a male.
Low socio-economic white males in Britain appear to be the hardest hit. Just 8.9% of white males who qualify for free school meals go on to study at university, while females in the same category are 51% more likely to continue their education. Non-white males from underprivileged backgrounds are “much more likely to go to university,” writes Sean Coughlan of BBC News.
Explanations abound for how women have not only caught up with men regarding university admissions, but are now creating a significant gap. One theory suggests that the nation’s move to a GCSE model, which has a stronger emphasis on coursework than the exam-heavy O-levels of the 1980’s, favored girls. Data, however, has rendered that claim moot, with statistics showing that girls had closed the gap with boys before the change.
5 out of 6 UK universities report that women on campus outnumber men — and that even if every male who applied were given a place, female students would still constitute the majority.
Nick Hillman and Nicholas Robinson, the report’s authors, offer several potential solutions to help restore the gender balance in higher education. They advocate for universities to fund explicit recruitment efforts geared toward increasing the number of male applicants, and they even suggest a “Take Your Sons to University Day” for parents to help boost interest in higher education.
The report also posits that brain development may be a factor, with women’s brains developing university-friendly skills sooner than men’s. They suggest that not “rushing” young men into a university track, and instead encouraging them to go later, could help.
In a piece in The Telegraph advocating for more attention toward men’s issues, Matthew Waterton writes that:
“The reluctance to acknowledge men as individuals (and the issues they face) is a dangerous stance to adopt. HEPI’s report today has validated my belief that more must be done to ensure equality and progression for both sexes.”
Mary Curnock Cook, Chief Executive of UCAS, states in the report’s foreword that:
“… the evidence is compelling. Boys are performing worse than girls across primary, secondary and higher education, not to mention apprenticeships, and the situation is getting worse.”
She writes that effective solutions will come from considerations in a range of disciplines including neuroscience, pedagogy, economics, politics, and more.
But the long-term implications, especially in the economic sphere, are dire for white, male Britons living in poverty, who are the subgroup least likely to go to university and most likely to drop out if they do get there.
The Daily Mail reports that Hillman highlighted the necessity of swift, effective strategies to combat the troubling trend, especially regarding Britain’s disadvanted white population:
“Indeed, we can only tackle the socio-economic gap in higher education participation by focusing on the underachievement of young men, and particularly disadvantaged young white men.”