Sex Ratio at UK Universities – It’s Worse Than I Thought

Even after 5 years of crawling around this data I’m still turning over new stones. I thought I knew about the sex ratio in UK higher education institutions. But in the past I have only considered the sex ratio irrespective of the country of origin of the students. UK universities take a large proportion of their students from overseas, both EU and non-EU – especially at postgraduate level. This affects the overall sex ratio because the sex ratio of overseas students tends to be closer to parity than that of UK students.

So, the question arises: if attention is confined to UK students – that is, students who were resident in the UK prior to becoming a student – what is the sex ratio then?

The data is available from the Higher Education Statistics Authority, dataset Table 10a: HE qualifications obtained by location of HE provider, sex, level of qualification obtained, mode of study and domicile 2011/12 to 2015/16.

The Tables below give the percentage by which women outnumber men (defined as 100*(w-m)/m). Numbers for full time and part time students have been combined. Postgraduate numbers are the sum of taught and ‘by research’ courses. The “all awards” category includes foundational degrees, HNC, HND and PGCE, as well as first degrees and postgraduates.

Table 1: UK students at HE Institutes in England

Award Excess of Women
2015 2016
Postgraduate 52.5% 50.0%
First Degree 36.6% 38.7%
All Awards 42.8% 42.0%

Table 2: UK students at HE Institutes in Wales

Award Excess of Women
2015 2016
Postgraduate 40.2% 40.9%
First Degree 37.2% 28.7%
All Awards 32.5% 27.1%

Table 3: UK students at HE Institutes in Scotland

Award Excess of Women
2015 2016
Postgraduate 47.4% 48.9%
First Degree 44.3% 44.0%
All Awards 41.4% 42.1%

Table 4: UK students at HE Institutes in Northern Ireland

Award Excess of Women
2015 2016
Postgraduate 57.0% 67.0%
First Degree 35.7% 36.2%
All Awards 44.5% 48.8%

12 thoughts on “Sex Ratio at UK Universities – It’s Worse Than I Thought

  1. AJ

    It is interesting that the disparity gets greater for postgraduate studies.
    I do think worse is appropriate for the wider gap between boys and girls at university although you do not address the case for that in your article.

    The reasons are economic, societal and ethical.

    Economically a large preponderance of women is an issue when such a low proportion of women remain dedicated long term to those careers which demand a degree level education. Examples are doctors, engineers, lawyers etc. it means societies investment in training has far less payback than it should.
    The damage to society is that there is a natural propensity towards hypergamy women find it difficult to marry and settle with men of lower status. The lack of suitable men can already be seen to be causing severe problems for middle class women who wish to have stable long term relationships. This causes further problems such as a reduced fertility rate and increased single parenthood.
    Ethically as long as life prospects are substantially set by education to degree level then a large disparity is an issue when it is the result of discrimination. There is strong evidence that this is the case with discrimination against men by women teachers, an abundance of programs to assist girls and universities which quite overtly provide sexist assistance to girls of all sorts.
    For all three reasons I think it is correct to say the gap is worse than previously believed.

    1. Steve

      Thank you
      I’ve been trying to think of that analogy for some time but couldn’t recall the movie.
      The time machine of course

  2. Douglas Milnes

    Thank you, William for another scholarly article on this severe topic for society.

    We have a long and hard fight yet to gain public appreciation of this huge problem. As an example, The Telegaraph’s only two reports about sex balance on universities carry one that happens to be 50/50 and one in Leeds that has more men that women. Strangely enough for their usual stance, the Guardian two years ago carried a story that the “UK’s university gender gap is a national scandal.”

    Our politicians all need to know that we will be holding them to account for the state of boys’ education come next election.

    1. Brendan Cleary

      On one hand, the preponderance of women graduates at university level and as postgraduates may look to be a problem or even an epidemic. However, quite clearly men are now not bothering with jobs that women are keen on taking up and not only that they can see the problems that university graduates are having right now obtaining jobs in their chosen field of study. Some professions clearly discriminate against men one way or another and ultimately meant may well not care. My daughter attends a local state primary school which has about 35 full-time school teachers. There is one male teacher who teaches Phys ed! The lack of male teachers in that school is evident right across the state. The effect on the children not having a male exemplar can only be guessed at. I’m guessing it’s not good. On the other hand, the absence of males at university level may not be such a bad thing given the difficulty, in Australia at any rate, that graduates are having obtaining work in their own fields of study. Perhaps it’s better to be a full-time plumber if you are a bloke than a full time check out operator with a fancy degree!

    2. paul parmenter

      “Our politicians all need to know that we will be holding them to account for the state of boys’ education come next election.”

      Except that “we”, in the sense of the majority of the population, or even a significant minority, will be doing absolutely nothing of the sort. If the great British electorate have cared not a jot about the decline in boys’ education for the last 30 years, I see no reason for them to suddenly start doing so now. I think parents do not look any further than the progress of their own offspring. If their son is doing badly, they look for individual remedies. It does not seem to occur to them that maybe it is the system that is holding him back. That, and the fact that they know they cannot change the system in any case.

  3. Groan

    A very good point to raise. And such valuable work. Particularly important work now Mary Curnock-Cook,s replacement has seen fit to use a deliberately obscuring formula to report on under represented groups. John Allman makes a very sensible point. For instance I have worked most of my working life in Health and Care, an overwhelmingly female workforce, I doubt this majority would change much and probably reflects the choices of men and women. However given the Political atmosphere and its translation into material help for females into STEM and the continuance of special scholarships for women, all based on an impression of female disadvantage almost solely based on numbers. I think it important to challenge the assumptions made about numbers. This is particularly important in Education where we know that there is an element of direct discrimination for girls in both teacher marking and assessments and in discipline and exclusions. Both from research done by self declared feminists. “Worse” to me really means the difference between the facts and the publicly accepted basis for actual policy is that much greater.

  4. John Allman

    I value greatly the work you do. You are much better at that work than I would be, and besides, I have never thought of doing it. It is valuable work. Thank you for doing it. I take my hat off to you and offer this argumentative thought of my own only with the utmost respect. But for you, I’d never have had the thought in the first place.

    For the first time, I am going to sound a note of criticism, not of your arithmetic, or your tenacity, or your analysis, or your writing skills, but (perhaps surprisingly) of your value judgment, implicit in your use of your word “worse” in the headline “Sex Ratio at UK Universities – It’s Worse Than I Thought”.

    When people lecture me saying that the average global temperature is getting too high, because of anthropogenic climate change, I take the wind out their sails by asking them what average global temperature would be optimum, and why that temperature is the best one to have, allowing the inference they invite, that exceeding that target would be something bad for mankind to cause, i.e. by our causing the said climate change “anthropogenically”.

    Likewise (exactly likewise if you think about it), when feminists or those under their spell lecture me that we need somehow to contrive, anthropogenically, a higher percentage of females in (say) the House of Commons (even if the female voters are just as stubborn as the male, in continuing to vote for male Parliamentary candidates), I innocently ask them what the optimum percentage of MPs who are female is, and why that percentage ought to become our target.

    If they say 50%, because half the population is female, I ask them to explain their logical argument, as to why half the population being female, logically demands the VALUE JUDGMENT that to have 50% of MPs female is good, and to have far fewer female MPs than 50% is therefore bad. Feminists simply don’t have a logical answer to this question.

    With your value judgment, leading to your use of the give-away value-judgment word “worse” in the title of this post, you seem to me to be making the same error as the feminists. Such are the perils of masculism. (See “Masculism, Feminism and the Euro Tunnel”.)

    It wasn’t self-evidently bad, in the days when only a tiny percentage of school leavers went to university, that more of the tiny minority who went to university and took degree courses were male than female. There was no scientific reason to predict gender balance. There was no value-judgment consensus to justify designating gender balance in university admission figures to be a “good” thing, in those days either.

    Nor is there now. Now that we have let “education education education” politics massage the hidden unemployment figures, so that people who’d never have got into university a hundred or even fifty years ago are now encouraged to take (for example) degrees in knitting (I kid you not), there is no more reason to expect or to crave gender balance than there was in the olden days, when the measurable gender imbalance was in the opposite direction.

    The question, “What percentage of MPs ought to be female?”, is wrong. The feminist wrong answer to that wrong question, “50%”, is doubly wrong. Your analogous, implicit question, “What percentage of undergraduates ought to be male?”, and your misguided implicit, masculist answer, “50%”, make the same thought error as the feminists make. Your implicit question and your implicit answer are both wrong for the same reason as their question and answer are wrong, in my opinion.

    1. William Collins Post author

      A very valid point. I was actually aware of it and slightly uneasy in using the word ‘worse’, though a title needs impact. It is indeed a valid debating point whether the gender ratio is all that important when the absolute number of students is very large. And I agree that unthinkingly assuming 50/50 is the ideal is without obvious foundation. Implicitly, though, what’s at the back of my mind is that the constant mantra still focuses entirely on females – in STEM, the claims about stereotyping, etc – and the true position does not get much of an airing.

    2. Douglas Milnes

      What you say would have a far greater import if it were not that there are so many educational aids aimed specifically at girls/women. This has been the case for a very long time, while for the past 30 years boys have been underachieving compared to girls.

      Sixty years ago, when there were no special educational drives for boys, boys were outperforming girls. That was heavily labelled as sexism and sexual discrimination, and led directly to the many millions of pounds every year that is spent on improving girl’s education at all levels.

      Now that the case has been reversed for quite some time and it is males who are not getting an equal education, it is hard to accept the concept that everything is fine and as it should be, rather than that something needs to be done about it.

  5. Duncan Butlin

    The only way to put this trend into reverse is for men to organise against women so that ‘boy-friendly’ policies can be introduced into schools and ‘girl-friendly’ policies can be weakened. The current policies prioritise girls’ success over boys’. The only was to achieve this is for married men to sign up to my Suffrageur Society, and to help spread the movement throughout the world.

    1. Douglas Milnes

      I don’t think that men need to organise AGAINST women.
      Men need to organise FOR men.
      You don’t improve society by tearing half of it down. That is what the feminist movement has been doing for decades (though they also harm women).

      I agree that we need boy-friendly educational policies and that the government should be prioritising boys over girls, given the educational output. I also agree that men need to organise and form collective action – both with local groups and in interest groups via the Internet. There is no one way to do this, so your Suffrageur Society, while I am sure you mean well by it, it not the ‘only way’.


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