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.

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5 Comments on “Time to worry about men?”

  1. V.H Says:

    It depends both where they are going and why. If for instance a young man is entering a craft having placed a bet that the salary for a plumber electrician or carpenter will continue to be three times that of a graduate teacher the I really don’t think it matters. Granted such simple maths may not render out when plugged into an excel spreadsheet but it would seem that information from the States bears out the relatively simple thinking. That 10k per annum plus the loan for expences may well have tipped the balance.
    Further on the 10k +. It may well be that young men who would’ve entered a 4 year Arts degree and not seeing a logical progression are deciding that 100k in debt isn’t that great a thing.
    And then of course you have that rather nasty little example in Statistics. The Simpsons Paradox http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simpson's_paradox

  2. Anna Notaro Says:

    I agree with the author of the GEA piece linked to this post, particularly on the point that this debate often ‘ turns achievement into an issue of girls vs. boys’ whereas ‘We need to ask which boys are beating which girls?’, in other words issues of ethinicity and class also play a role..

    A year ago the New York Times published the following article ‘The Boys at the Back’
    which advocated some sort of ‘boy friendly’ policies with the risk of confirming gender stereotypes, for an interesting response see; Are “Boy-Friendly” Schools The Answer for Underachieving Male Students?

    So, yes let’s worry about men but only in so far as addressing such issue is beneficial to enhancing the educational attainment of both women and men.

  3. BrendanH Says:

    A better way of framing this is as follows: girls and young women have managed to increase their participation and performance in a relatively remarkable way. What enabled them to do that, and what can we learn from that to allow boys and young men to do the same?

    Some of the causes are likely not to be relevant (boys can’t really switch their aspirations from being economically dependent homemakers to being independent earners), but some will be.

  4. James Fryar Says:

    My experience has always been that female students are a lot more ‘clued in’. They know what they want, why they picked the course, what they want to get out of it, and where they want to end up afterwards. In contrast, I get the feeling from many male students that they kind of, sort of, didn’t really know what they wanted to do, were sort of interested in a subject, made a few choices, and took what they were offered.

    This broadly tallies with studies of young adults. Young men, for example, are leaving home later than their sisters. Young single women are more likely to buy houses than young single men. So I think the educational trend is symptomatic of a wider social trend in which young men are becoming increasingly disenfranchised. I don’t know why, and I’m sure there are an infinite number of studies out there, but there *is* a growing problem we have to get to the bottom of.

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