UNIVERSITY GENDER GAP IS EVEN WIDER BUT NO-ONE KNOWS WHY

Autor: Kevin Schofield Fuente: The Scotsman

MINISTERS were last night urged to launch an urgent investigation to find out why the gap between the proportion of young men and women entering higher education is bigger than ever.

Statistics seen by The Scotsman show that 55.2 per cent of girls under the age of 21 went into higher education in 2002/03, compared to just 42.8 per cent of boys. The figures, contained in an official Scottish Executive publication, show that over the past 15 years, young women have consistently outstripped men in enrolling at college or university - and that the gap is widening.

Last night, Jack McConnell, Scotland’s First Minister, hinted at "experimentation with more single-sex classes".

He told a group of 100 schoolchildren in Glasgow: "One of the problems we have in Scottish education at the moment is that girls are achieving much more than boys. And I wonder whether or not more single-sex classes in schools might lead to boys achieving a bit more, if they could focus on the work in the classroom rather than who they are sitting beside. I can’t see us having single-sex schools everywhere, but I can see perhaps a bit more flexibility."

In a question-and-answer session, the First Minister said: "I’m not totally against the idea of single-sex schools, although I’m not sure it would necessarily be successful right across Scotland. I think we do need to have a bit more diversity in the system in Scotland and think there should be some experimentation with more single-sex classes."

Despite Mr McConnell’s comments, an Executive spokesman appeared to reject calls for a detailed inquiry into the gender gap.

He said: "We acknowledge there is a gap between the amount of men and women in higher education. The Executive will work to promote equal access for all - regardless of gender or social background - wherever possible."

The last time men outnumbered women was back in 1988/89, when 21.5 per cent of young men enrolled in higher education courses compared to 21.2 per cent of women. By 1992/93, the proportion of female under 21s in higher education stood at 36.4 per cent, compared to 35.4 per cent of men. Five years later, the gap had widened to eight per cent - 50.7 per cent of women and 42.7 per cent of men. The trend has continued since, to the extent that the gap is now 12.4 per cent - wider than at any other time.

Two senior academics told The Scotsman that ministers should launch an investigation into the gap. Professor John Field, a lecturer in lifelong learning at Stirling University, also said that, left unchecked, the increasing gender gap could lead to a rise in problems such as anti-social behaviour.

He said: "I would have thought that the scale of the gap is such that further inquiry is pretty urgent because we don’t know what is causing it and what the consequences are. It’s clearly not a blip, but I think we have been slow to wake up to the fact that it’s a long-term trend. It is a major problem and it’s here to stay unless we do something about it."

Professor Field added: "The success of girls within education is something that anybody in their right mind has to welcome because it is a good thing for Scotland and a good thing for education.

"But the critical issue is that something is happening with boys and we are storing up a long-term challenge. We may have reasonably able young men choosing to go straight into the labour market because they may well become frustrated later in life.

"There is also evidence that those who go into higher education later in life do not do as well as those who enter it from school. A sense of under-achievement among young men can also manifest itself in the form of anti-social behaviour, so it’s something that deserves real attention."

Professor Field’s call for action was supported by Dr Linda Croxford of Edinburgh University’s centre for educational sociology.

She said: "The career aspirations of girls are changing and they are seeing the opportunities that are available if they get higher education qualifications and they are going for it. As for the boys, there certainly does need to be more investigation into how boys perceive career opportunities. Any research would preferably take a long-term approach and find out what happens to those who go straight into jobs as opposed to higher education."

Politicians also called on the Executive to take decisive action.

Adam Ingram, the Scottish National Party’s deputy education spokesman, said that the situation had completely changed from the 1970s when the number of men going on to university far outnumbered the number of women.

He added: "It’s past time for the Scottish Executive to take some action in this area. It may be that boys are getting less out of the school experience than girls and we should be looking at why that is the case.

"It may also be a problem with self-confidence and whether the school system affects some boys’ self-esteem."

Dr Jack Boyle, a chartered psychologist, said women now had more role models and were keen to follow in the footsteps of successful females.

He said: "The aspirations of men have risen enormously and this is transmitted down to their daughters. As a result, if you look at professions like music, law and dentistry, females now outnumber males.

"A culture of achievement has developed among women and they now want to assert themselves in all walks of life.

"There are women in positions that simply weren’t open to them 20 years ago, and young girls are now realising that being a female no longer stops them from getting on.

"What has occurred among young males, at the same time, is satisfaction with immediate gratification and a refusal to take the long-term view.

"Education is a good investment in terms of social status and money, but they haven’t taken this on board. Too many young guys think it’s not macho to study, but women see the opportunities that education provides and go for it."

Dr Boyle added: "Girls are also more likely to have the type of personality that will make them a success at university - they are better behaved, are more likely to obey the rules and are less likely to abuse drink and drugs."

In July, the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council announced that it would commission studies into the gender gap after new figures showed that 57 per cent of students at Scottish universities were female.

The last set of exam results revealed that the attainment gap was also increasing, with 55 per cent of Higher passes going to girls, compared with 45 per cent to boys.

However, the one piece of bright news came this month when statistics released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service showed that men were closing the gap on women when it comes to being accepted to attend university.

The figures showed that the number of Scottish men accepted at a UK university has gone up from 10,894 last year to 11,434 - an increase of 5 per cent.

Over the same period, the number of women accepted has increased by 3.1 per cent, from 13,266 to 13,680.

ATTEMPTS TO REDRESS THE BALANCE

EDUCATION experts first noticed in the 1970s that girls were beginning to out-perform boys in school.

Yet despite numerous academic reports and the occasional government initiative, there is no sign of that trend changing any time soon.

As far back as 1996, calls were being made for boys to be segregated from girls in some classes in a bid to boost their confidence and, ultimately, their academic performance.

John Mitchell, the then president of the Headteachers Association of Scotland, said at the time: "Ideally, mixed classes are the best way to teach, but we may need one period a week to separate the boys out and allow them to discuss things themselves."

The call for single-sex classes has been repeated several times through the years, but has never been adopted as government policy.

Two years ago, academics at Stirling University said research into teaching boys and girls in different groups highlighted benefits for both.

Josephine Airnes, who wrote a report on the subject, said boys did not think a single-sex environment was advantageous, but their attainment improved when taught on their own.

She said: "It may be of benefit to pupils to work separately regarding gender in certain circumstances, for example, for practical work or sensitive topics in the syllabus."

Universities Scotland has also warned about the long-term effects of failing to address the problem.

Two years ago, a spokesman warned: "We can’t allow a situation where your gender defines the likelihood of getting to university. We do need to have a reappraisal of school education. We need to make sure that both sexes are engaged in learning and have equal aspirations."

Latest figures on the attainment of secondary school pupils suggest that there is no immediate sign of the gender gap closing.

Six months ago, an Executive report revealed that 57 per cent of boys were failing their writing test at the end of the five-14 national curriculum.

However, the Scottish Executive said major changes planned for the future of Scottish education should help to re-engage boys and improve their performance.

A spokesman said: "We do recognise that we do have to address the gender gap in attainment.

"One of the ways we aim to do that is through the new, revised curriculum, to create one that is more appealing to boys."
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