Number of non-binary UK students doubles in two years

More higher education staff also identify as non-binary in what campaigners say reflects LGBTQ+ people’s confidence to be themselves

October 31, 2022
Source: iStock

The number of UK students who define themselves as neither male nor female has more than doubled in just two years, figures reveal.

LGBTQ+ rights charity Stonewall said the data confirm that people are becoming increasingly confident to be themselves, thanks to more social acceptance and visibility of different sexual and gender identities.

Analysis of Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) figures by Times Higher Education shows that 5,505 students defined their sex as “other” in 2020-21 – rather than “male” or “female” – equivalent to 0.2 per cent of the student body.

This was a 42 per cent increase from the number the year before, and more than double that in 2018-19. In 2014-15 – the first year such comparable statistics were recorded – just 395 students recorded an answer of “other’.

The Hesa figures also show that there were 390 staff who did not define themselves as male or female last year – also equivalent to 0.2 per cent of all faculty members. This was up from 355 the year before, and just 35 in 2017-18, when such figures were first gathered.

“The steady increase in social acceptance and visibility of LGBTQ+ people in recent decades has led to an environment where more people are more confident in their sexual and gender identity,” said Robbie de Santos, director of communications and external affairs at Stonewall.

“These figures, among others, further confirm that more people are able to be themselves now in every part of their lives. It is important that universities work hard to ensure they are providing an inclusive, welcoming environment for all LGBTQ+ students.”

There is not yet an official figure for the proportion of the UK population who are non-binary, but a recent report from Stonewall found that 1 per cent of British respondents selected “non-binary” when asked about their gender identity and a further 1 per cent selected “genderqueer/gender fluid”.

Stonewall said 0.2 per cent is therefore likely an underestimate of the non-binary student population, and cautioned that the Hesa figures do not explicitly ask if people are non-binary.

About 750 students at King’s College London told Hesa they were neither male nor female – accounting for 14 per cent of the national total of students who described their sex as “other”.

Looking at higher education providers with at least 100 students, the proportion of students who responded to the survey with “other” was highest at the London School of Architecture – 5 per cent.

In contrast, there were no students at more than 100 universities who responded the same way.

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Reader's comments (3)

What about those who find it completely irrelevant? I removed any reference to gender from my records, not because I am nonbinary but because that information has no relevance to why I have a record in the institution at all. It's a protest at the incessant urge to stuff everybody into groups based on characteristics such as ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference, over which they have no control. What difference does it make to how good a job I do?
Spot on comment m.rob. The incessant intrusion regarding gender /sexual preference every five minutes is getting beyond parody. I am perfectly fine with anyone choosing a socially constructed identity but I have no desire to go on about my own - it really is an invasion of personal space. I do wonder though as to how you would select a defined category if you were gender fluid.
This news piece - and the responses of those surveyed - illustrate the classic confusion between "sex" and "gender" whereby sometimes gender is taken to mean biological sex, and sometimes to mean "gender identity." Let's be clear: all of those who identify as non-binary are either male or female. There is no inbetween. Sex is defined on the basis of the type of gametes you would produce under ordinary circumstances when fertile, and applies across the animal kingdom. Small, motile ones (like sperm) or large immotile ones (eggs). There is no third, non-binary gamete. (This includes people with differences of sexual development, formerly called intersex: they too are either male or female, even if some of their anatomy may appear ambiguous. Non-binary is a gender identity, not a sex. Non-binary doesn't mean "not feeling male or female" but "doesn't conform to masculine or feminine stereotypes associated with being male or female." I see this all the time in young women who feel they have to identify as non-binary because they don't like make-up and "girly" things. It's lauded as progressive but unfortunately it's very regressive. Don't conform to gender stereotypes? Well, actually, not many of us do. We can celebrate diversity without having to pigeonhole everyone into a rigid "identity" box.