Gender imbalance at Scottish universities – women take the lead
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Gender imbalance at Scottish universities – women take the lead

Before the late 1870s, you wouldn’t have found a single woman at a Scottish university – but now Scottish institutions are full of women.

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) this week published a progress report which revealed nearly 60 percent of first-year Scottish students are female.

This female-weighted gender imbalance is even more present in subjects such as nursing which are largely dominated by women (90 percent). However, it is less prevalent in courses such as engineering, which is still predominately male heavy (85 percent).

The report details the increase in female applicants over the last five years. SFC found the difference between the number of women and men studying had risen from 14.9 percentage points to 17.4 percentage points in the 2015-16 academic year.

“The gap between males and females showed a slight declining trend until 2013-14, but in the two academic years since then the gap has increased,” the report said.

However, it also recognises the areas where the gender imbalance is beginning to even out. Subjects such as building services and mechanical engineering, which have always been male-dominated, are now receiving more female applicants.

To address this, in August 2016 the government released a Gender Action Plan to reduce the gender differences in higher education. The plan had two main goals: to reduce the gap between the number of female and male students to five percent by 2030; and for no course to have a gender imbalance more than a 75/25 split.

The report “shows where we’ve started out from”, said John Kemp, interim chief executive of the SFC. “As we would expect, some evidence provides grounds for optimism and some evidence points to areas where we need to work harder or revise earlier plans.

“I am optimistic about the progress that will be made and the positive effect that will have on society.”

While progress has already been made in certain subjects, the overall gender imbalance is notably worse. In 2015, 41.3 percent of new enrolments at Scottish universities were male, a drop of nearly 1.5 percent since 2011.

But, SFC is eager to change that.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Minister for Further and Higher Education in Scotland said:

“Gender should not be a barrier to people realising their potential and I am concerned by the imbalances that still exist in some careers and courses, for example in STEM or childcare.

“I am heartened by the progress that has already been made since the Gender Action Plan’s inception. It is imperative schools, colleges and universities work together to widen access to traditionally gendered subjects and support students to make the right choice for them.”

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