Strathclyde Telegraph

Scottish universities and colleges face gender balance targets

By Émer O’Toole, Editor-in-Chief

 

No more than three-quarters of the students on courses at Scottish universities should be of the same gender, the country’s funding council has ruled, in a move to tackle gender imbalance.

Under the Scottish Funding Council (SFC)’s report, no university or college would be able to run a course where more than 75% of students were either men or women.

The target, which will be introduced in 2030, follows the Scottish Government’s concerns about the issue of gender imbalance in 2014, and the SFC believes that key industries and services cannot be “restricted to the talent of half the population.”

The report says that men make up nearly 90 per cent of engineering students, and 80 per cent of students on maths, computer sciences and technology courses.

Women account for nearly 90 per cent of nursing students, and more than 80 per cent of trainee teachers.

It is thought that the proposal from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) ruin West College Scotland’s plans for an all-female computing course to consider more women to consider careers in information technology.

David Renton, computing curriculum quality leader at the college’s Paisley campus, said: “There is a shortage of graduates to fill all the programming jobs available in the UK’s computing industry, where the gender imbalance is also an issue.

“We’re committed to addressing this with our new introductory course dedicated to women. It will hopefully get more girls to love computing and benefit from the large pool of job opportunities in the tech industries.”

The SFC Gender Action Plan interim report states that Scotland’s colleges and universities continue to experience “significant and persistent gender bias” in applications to subjects that are traditionally considered to be male or female.

The report added: “While we acknowledge colleges and universities cannot impact on these imbalances alone…. they must be pro-active in playing their part to address this issue.

“Such imbalances predominantly come about through the gender stereotypes that all too frequently determine subject choice. These courses are often those most closely related to particular occupations and they therefore have a significant effect on subsequent career options.”

Later this year, all Scottish universities will be required to set out how they are tackling gender imbalances, including setting targets where possible. After that, the funding council will “plan a national ambition for the next three years” and will set out the steps it will take to achieve the target.

Emily Beever, NUS Scotland women’s officer, welcomed the introduction of a national plan to address an “ingrained” lack of diversity in education.

She said: “While setting these targets will undoubtedly be a driver for change in our institutions, the issues in our lecture theatres, and the diversity of students that make those subjects up, are the result of deeper societal perceptions and stereotypes that we need to address.”

Overall, women represent 56.9 per cent of all undergraduates at Scottish universities, and the gap with men has been on an upward trend since the early 1990s.

The report’s other main target, also to be achieved by 2030, is for the gap between male and female representation at undergraduate level to be reduced to 5 percentage points. This will form a key part of universities’ next access agreements with the funding council.

The announcements come after the funding council confirmed an overall cut of £30 million, or 3.3 per cent, from higher education budgets for 2016-17.

The universities facing the biggest cuts in teaching and research funding, of 3.9 per cent, are Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee (down £6.2 million, £2.7 million and £2.5 million respectively), as well as Robert Gordon University (down £1.4 million).

Funding for the University of Glasgow is being cut by £4.9 million (3.6 per cent) while the University of St Andrews is losing £1.1 million (3.1 per cent).

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