Women in universities

In the UK a significant development has just been confirmed: more than half of women (51 per cent to be precise) between 17 and 30 are going or have gone to university. In Ireland that may not seem astounding, as the figure here is higher already. But what makes the British number interesting is that the proportion of men going to university stands at 40 per cent, so considerably lower than the percentage of women. Furthermore, while the proportion of men going to university has increased by 3 per cent over a decade, the increase for women over the same period is 10 per cent.

Of course none of this is reflected in the distribution of senior academic posts, a large majority of which are occupied by men. But the educational trend outlined above will have an impact eventually, both in academic employment and in senior posts all over the economy. I suspect many will not worry unduly about this, and will – justifiably – point out that this development balances centuries-long discrimination against women. Nevertheless, we may need to be somewhat concerned about the social impact of having a growing number of men who are, relatively speaking, educationally disadvantaged, not least because such men, arguably unlike women, drift easily into anti-social conduct and even crime.

Perhaps we also need to look more carefully at the impact more generally of having those without a higher education qualification as a minority, who may feel both disadvantaged and inferior. If higher education is, rightly, no longer seen as an entitlement only for the wealthy and privileged, then we need to have a clearer sense of what role in society we expect to be played by those who have not experienced it. These are all issues that, I fear, we are not so far really addressing with any kind of energy.

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8 Comments on “Women in universities”


  1. “I suspect many will not worry unduly about this, and will – justifiably – point out that this development balances centuries-long discrimination against women.”

    Em, let me get this right Ferdinand: you’re saying that the present generation of young Irishmen deserve to be suffer discrimination and disadvantage as ‘retribution’/justice for the awful, awful things their forefathers did to their foremothers before them? What: all that clean water, electricity, medical advances and the lowest maternal mortality rate in the world? I hang my head in shame.

    But on a slightly less sarcastic note: is there anyone in Ireland’s third level sector with the balls (excuse the sexist metaphor) to point out that young Irish men are getting a bad deal and that the current gender unemployment gap (the rate is twice that for men as for women – the highest gap in the EU) is the result of the failure of, dare I say, people like you to actually stand up and protect the interests of young Irishmen AS WELL AS young Irish women?

    Come on: stop preaching to the converted and spare us the PC newspeak that seems to have completely corrupted the third level sector throughout the Western world. Your in a leadership position Ferdinand: so provide some leadership to the male half of the youth population, not just the female half.

    • Niamh Says:

      The blog post clearly does not say that men deserve to be discriminated against – merely that there are some people out there that would see it that way. In fact, he does raise some of the complicated issues resulting from the imbalance, so I don’t know why you’re attacking him for not defending men?
      `
      Don’t worry, women will continue to be at a disadvantage as long as they continue to (mostly) be the ones that have to lose chunks of their careers if they dare consider having children. Total generalisation I know, but women seem to consistently stop short of the top even in professions like teaching and librarianship where the gender balance has already been in our favour for long enough to have made a difference.


      • Yes, Niamh – I agree that is an important point. Careers structured to suit male lifestyles – or at least male lifestyles that were common until now – is something that clearly imbalances gender distribution at the top of professions, and I agree that continues to be an issue. But actually, there are subtle changes taking place, and more recent studies suggest that in a number of professions the gender distribution at the top is beginning to change.


    • Gerard, I’m not absolutely sure you read this properly! The whole point of the post was to sound a warning about what is happening to males! The sentence you quote is not what *I* think, but what others might be saying (mind you, not without justification). But I am concerned that we will face major social problems in the future unless the educational disadvantage of young men is considered more seriously.


      • You’re right Ferdinand, I under-appreciated your own points about the educational disadvantages faced by young men.

        What threw me was that conflated two issues: male under-representation in the 3rd level student population and female under-representation in the 3rd level teaching population. You set up the former issue as one that will ‘justifiably’ ‘balance’ (your words) the latter issue.

        This is not to over-parse your post (it was just a blog post after all!) but it seems to me that by conflating the two issues then the problem you are rightly concerned about – the increasing alienation of a growing generation of young men – will not be resolved so long as the dominant discourse is one concerned with mythic disadvantages suffered by women (the gender wage gap being the leading one).

        And there I’ll leave it – keep up the posting.

  2. Iainmacl Says:

    I admire your faith that the gender disparity in senior academic posts will somehow right itself given the sheer number of female graduates going through the system. I’m afraid the evidence doesn’t seem to point that way at all. As part of a study we are conducting into academic careers we have found it very difficult to get simple statistics on the distribution of gender in academic appointments across the universities in Ireland, but for those we have managed to find, the results show a shocklngly huge disparity at the transition from lecturer to senior lecturer and above. So the weight of numbers in the lectureship category doesn’t seem to have managed to affect more senior appointments. Of course, it might not be the case that this is true for all institutions since we can;t get the full data. But it does point very strongly to the suggestion that the criteria for promotion have a significantly distorting effect.


    • Iain, I don’t actually believe that anything will ‘right itself’. However, while I agree with you that in the academic profession things are still hugely imbalanced, even here there *has* been a change, even if a slow one. In the US, for example, women make up 45 per cent of academic leadership positions, and in Australia the figure is even higher. We are behind here, but I suspect it won’t last for ever! But I agree it requires continuing attention.

    • Vincent Says:

      It would seem that unless women arrive at the top earlier, the baby-break, no matter how short will be an issue. Another way might be to push out the ‘top’ to around 60.


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