Universities ‘should set targets’ on recruiting male students

Hepi calls for action on sector’s gender gap to tackle male ‘underachievement’

May 12, 2016
Children playing on UK council housing development
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Scaling the gap: the report cited neuroscience research to suggest that some men may benefit from not rushing into doing a degree

Only two English universities have targets to increase recruitment of male students, according to a Higher Education Policy Institute report on the sector’s gender gap “problem”.

The report, published on 12 May, cites Ucas UK figures showing that at the mid-January 2016 application deadline, 343,930 women and 249,790 men had applied to enter higher education – a difference of 94,140 that was “the highest on record”.

“Male underachievement is not only seen in the figures for entry but also in non-continuation (dropout) rates and degree performance statistics,” says the report, authored by Nick Hillman, Hepi’s director, and Nicolas Robinson, who was a visiting researcher at the thinktank last year.

It argues that “the weak performance of people from disadvantaged backgrounds or certain ethnic groups can only be fully addressed by dealing with the differences in male and female achievement”, noting that “while men underperform overall, poor white men have the worst record of all”.

The report, titled Boys to Men: the Underachievement of Young Men in Higher Education – and How to Start Tackling It, does note that men still “outperform” women when it comes to entry to the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, to science and engineering courses and to research degrees – and that male graduates earn higher incomes on average.

And it also observes that “other developed countries have undergone a similar shift” in balance towards female undergraduates.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Education at a Glance 2015 report, which looked at 28 developed and developing nations including the UK, found that “women make up the majority of entrants into tertiary education in all countries except Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Turkey”.

‘Take Our Sons to University Day’

Ucas figures show that, on entry rates for 2015, young women were 9.2 per cent more likely than men to go to university.

“If this differential growth carries on unchecked, then girls born this year will be 75 per cent more likely to go to university than their male peers,” says Mary Curnock Cook, the Ucas chief executive, in a foreword to the Hepi report.

Ms Curnock Cook argues that “the dominance of women in the school workforce” is a key factor in the student gender gap – but the report suggests that increasing the number of male teachers would have, at best, “limited impact”.

The report says that the most important factors in the gender gap are “differential educational attainment” in schools, “gender differences in the labour market” and “the upgrading of nursing and teaching to the status of graduate professions”.

It notes that the number of female students in the UK overtook the number of male students for the first time in the mid-1990s and since then the switch of nursing to a degree profession has accelerated the trend. “Removing Subjects Allied to Medicine and Education from the data reduces the gender disparity in entry to higher education to around one-eighth of its original level,” the report says.

The report’s recommendations include a “Take Our Sons to University Day”, more access spending on the recruitment of disadvantaged male students and “more institutions [to] consider setting themselves targets for male recruitment in future”.

Based on analysis of access agreements by the Office for Fair Access for the report, it adds that only two English universities “have statistical outcomes targets on the recruitment of male students” that are not specifically related to teacher training.

The report also cites neuroscience research suggesting that female brains develop earlier to recommend that “some young men could benefit from not being rushed into full undergraduate study immediately on leaving school or college”; that “helping male students more should also mean altering pedagogy to take full account of perceived differences in the way men and women study and learn”; and that the advent of learning analytics offers a chance to find new ways to help “underperforming groups, including men”.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for education and skills, told Times Higher Education: “Traditionally, there have been many barriers for girls and women to access educational opportunities. In advanced nations, these barriers have been largely overcome so whoever is ready to expend greater effort to study hard will be rewarded with better results.”

He added that “our education systems are doing less well with motivating boys to do well in school, with similar ‘intelligence’ they systematically achieve poorer results, particularly if they come from disadvantaged home backgrounds. As a result, countries do not fully capitalise on their talent.”

john.morgan@tesglobal.com

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Print headline: Hepi: set targets on male student recruitment

Reader's comments (2)

Has any body thought to ask these "boys" why they are not embarking on 40k worth of debt for an education? Maybe this group has more savvy than the tone of this article would credit them with. Why lumber yourself with that sort of debt for a slim chance at a 'better future', given that what passes for graduate employment these days is little more than middle-management flummery? Did you really study for a degree to become a 'project manager', was it worth it? Maybe this cohort of younger minds see through this and are actually 'doing' something, not just talking about it over coffee, flip-charts and powerpoint presentations... I would not do a degree, masters or PhD if I had my time again. Utterly inutile.
The belief boys should be strong “allows increasingly” more aggressive treatment by parents, teachers, peers, and others as early as one year of age, designed to create more anger, fear, and tension, so they will be prepared to fight, defend, and be tough. This is coupled with “much less” kind, stable, (very little kind verbal interaction), and much less mental/emotional support, knowledge, and skills for fear of coddling. It is the more aggressive, less supportive treatment, which creates the toughness or extra maintained layers of average stress: anger, fear, preparation for defense, and anxiety. These layers remain in the mind and take away real mental energy from academics, so those boys will have to work two or three times as hard to receive the same mental reward for work expended. This more aggressive, less supportive treatment creates more social/emotional distance/distrust of others – parents, teachers, peers, and others in society. It creates lags in social vocabulary, less knowledge of syntax and other communication we as girls are given on a more continuous basis. It creates higher average stress, which creates more activity for stress relief (not genetics but environmentally created). The higher average stress also creates higher muscle tension, which hurts handwriting: more pressure on the pencil and a much tighter grip, hurting handwriting and motivation to write (too much pressure tighter grip causing early fatigue). The total effect including less care and support creates much more failure and a feeling of hopelessness, especially with our false genetic models firmly in place. Also to make it even tougher for boys is the granting of love and honor (feelings of self-worth) only on some condition of achievement, status, or image. This was designed to keep Male esteem and feelings of self-worth low to keep them striving and even be willing to give their lives in time of war for small measures of love and honor from society. Males not achieving in school or other areas are given more ridicule and discipline to make them try harder. Support is not given boys for fear of coddling. Many boys (as you would expect) thus falling behind in school then turn their attention to sports and video games to gleam small measures of love and honor not received in the classroom. This also acts as a psychological catharsis for much more “maintained anger, anxiety, and hurt” they accumulate from the more harsh treatment they experience over time. The belief boys should be strong and the false belief in genetics creates a blatant mental denial of the differential treatment, which is creating the lower academics, lower esteem, and other problems many boys are facing today. So strong is the belief boys should be strong there is an almost emotional cannibalism allowed upon boys and men who appear weak in some way by society: parents, teachers, others, even from many girls and women, especially in the media. As girls we are treated much better and enjoy more hope and care from society. Since we as girls are given by differential treatment, much more continual, positive – mental, social/emotional support, verbal interaction and care from an early age onward, this creates quite the opposite outcome for girls when compared with boys. We enjoy much more care and support from society from infancy through adulthood and receive love and honor simply for being girls. This creates all of the good things. We enjoy lower average stress for more ease of learning. We enjoy much more freedom of expression from much protection that makes us look more unstable at times. Of course we can also use that same freedom of expression to give verbal, silent abuse, and hollow kindness/patronization to our Male peers with impunity knowing we are protected. We enjoy much lower muscle tension for more ease and ability in handwriting and motivation to write. We enjoy much more positive, trust/communication from parents, teachers, peers, and more support for perceived weaknesses. We are reaping a bonanza in the information age. The lower the socioeconomic bracket the much more amplified the differential treatment from infancy and more differentiated over time through adulthood. In lower socioeconomic environments, there is also a kind of more set in place, attention, support and care for Female children as a kind of love and affection catharsis for girls. Such kindness would “almost never be given to boys”. Now with girls and women taking over many areas of society, we are enjoying even more lavishing of love and honor from society, while the boys and men are now failing more so and are now given even more ridicule and abuse by society. Mind you, this is also now coming from many girls and women using our still protected freedoms of expression and more so with false feelings of superiority.

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