Time to worry about men?
UCAS, the UK’s agency for managing applications to higher education institutions, last week released the latest statistics on applications for the next academic year. One piece of information that rather stood out in the report was the following:
‘Over 87,000 more women than men have applied, a difference that has increased by 7,000 this year. Young women are a third more likely to apply to higher education than young men.’
This trend is not unique to Britain, nor is it absolutely new. Two years ago in Canada the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario noted:
‘University application rates of women increased from 41 per cent of the potential applicant pool in 1994 to 52 per cent in 2006, while application rates of men rose from 32 per cent to 39 per cent in the same time period.’
It has become increasingly clear that a gender gap is opening up in higher education, in western industrialised countries at least, which has seen women not just entering universities in greater numbers than men, but also out-performing them when there.
Of course we are witnessing this trend in a society that, for generations, has under-valued women’s work and has seen (and still sees) men occupying most leadership roles in business and in society more generally. Is this trend about to be reversed? Will men become the disadvantaged sex? And is this an issue about which educators should feel concern? Will this trend prompt more crime and deviance by young men who feel marginalised?
It is probably a good idea not to over-state the significance of this trend, but it may nevertheless be time to consider ways in which boys and young men can be more effectively motivated to see educational goals as important for their social status and personal fulfilment. A good bit of work has been done on this; but the key to combating male educational under-achievement lies in the early years of education. This in turn is another bit of evidence pointing to the importance of good pre-school education, particularly for disadvantaged children.
After centuries of discrimination against women it may not feel compelling to worry about men. But it is important to do so nonetheless.