Published on February 24, 2014 | by Dorothy Spencer


Men don’t need no education

Four Female Students Entering University

UCAS figures show male applicants to university are dropping [Francis Wilmer]

How times have changed. It was not so long ago that feminists bemoaned the testosterone-packed villages of Oxford and Cambridge.

But after years of male dominance at university, it seems the pendulum has swung right back around, with women now two-thirds more likely to apply for higher education.

Predictions that a rise in university fees to £9,000 per year would lead to a drop in applications has not occurred in the way expected, with UCAS applicants at a record high.

What we have witnessed is a change in demographics; the final figures from last autumn’s intake show a decline of 54,000 in male applicants, a 13 per cent drop when compared to the previous year.

Last week the head of UCAS predicted that men are set to become the most disadvantaged group in the country when it comes to going to university; ‘men’ and ‘disadvantaged’ being a couplet that are not often seen together.

Concern about the performance of boys in education has been growing for a while – particularly amongst the white working classes – ever since Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, published a report that concluded that males concentrate more on football, fighting and f***ing than reading, writing and arithmetic.

There are now less men submitting UCAS forms than women, a state of affairs which has led to the Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, to call for white, working-class, teenage boys to be bracketed in the same category as students from other disadvantaged communities and ethnic minorities.

He went on to propose a novel remedy for the imbalance, suggesting a tactic of positive discrimination whereby the entry grades for males are lowered – making it easier for them to pass through the hallowed gates into further education than their female counterparts; controversial and currently illegal under the Discrimination Act.


Social mobility has always been a sticky issue for Britain; a report published last year indicated that we have some of the lowest social mobility in the developed world.

Since education tends to work as an engine, driving mobility upwards, it is a good place to start tackling the broken ladder in Britain, where parental influence still has a huge impact on a child’s education.

Data from UCAS showed that young women from the most disadvantaged communities are “much more likely” to apply to university in comparison to their male peers.

Mark Langston, a BA Drawing student at Camberwell, said: “I think there’s a pressure for young people to go to work and provide for their families. I know this to be true myself, especially with things being so bad economically. I think with having a background where neither parent went to university, there’s an expectation that you’ll follow in their footsteps and go to work and earn money rather than accumulating debt by studying, especially a subject like art.

“There’s also an anti-education mentality in a lot of working class communities that I experienced where education is looked down upon and trade jobs are considered more worthwhile,” he added.


a group of students sit outside LCC

In the current economic climate, many young people feel pressure to work rather than further their education [Francis Wilmer]

As well as being less likely to go to university, girls outperform males in school and college in every age group and discipline.

This continues through to university, where women are more likely to graduate with a first class degree.

Steven Addai, a 21-year-old support worker from Hanworth, says: “In my personal experience girls may outperform boys because boys generally seem more wrapped up in social things at school. When I was younger, with all the gang culture going on, education wasn’t a priority. It wasn’t ‘cool’ to be smart and articulate yourself and I think boys struggle more with this than girls, who I believe are more mature in that sense.”

Speaking to other young males who decided to swerve university, it seems that being academically minded doesn’t bring you the sort of street credibility many young males would aspire to, particularly if you come from a working class background.

“When I was younger, with all the gang culture going on, education wasn’t a priority. It wasn’t ‘cool’ to be smart and articulate yourself.” Steven Addai

Malachy Bennett, who attended Gunnersbury School for Boys, states:  “You were derided if you were seen to be a swot; from what I know this wasn’t as much of an issue amongst girls.”

Some have suggested that there is an institutional bias in our education system, which favours the fairer sex.

With females better suited to the academic environment and coursework demands, particularly when it comes to completing work at home, perhaps a body busting with testosterone just doesn’t lend itself to academic pondering.

Austin Chamberlain, a 21-year-old construction worker from Hanworth, says: “From personal experience all the girls did their coursework really well whereas boys struggled to hand assignments in on time. The education system doesn’t favour a practical way of learning, which I feel would have engaged me and other boys better.”


a group of mainly female students stand outside LCC

Being academically minded doesn’t bring you the sort of street credibility some young males would aspire to. [Francis Wilmer]

Willetts believes that the present situation is a result of “the culmination of a decades-old trend in our education system, which seems to make it harder for boys and men to face down the obstacles in the way of learning.”

Perhaps men have been more willing to take the carrot dangled by the government, who have been pushing earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship schemes as an alternative to a degree.

As the graduate job market makes a sluggish recovery, and tales of university leavers forced to take unpaid work or go into fields unrelated to their studies abound, more traditional male occupations, such as electricians and plumbers, may seem increasingly attractive.

These practical skills are traditionally more resilient in the face of unstable markets, as Chamberlain says: “Rather than go to university you can go straight into a trade, start earning money straight away and get qualifications.”

“They are easier to get into, you don’t need really good grades and you’re still guaranteed a relatively good income at the end of it,” Chamberlain adds.


Could it be that our young men are retreating back into the more traditional fields of labour after being faced with the prospect of higher tuition fees, divorced from any guarantee of higher earnings upon graduating?

Despite this, women are still more likely to earn a lower wage than men upon leaving university and are under-represented in government and business, science, engineering and the financial industries.

With debate raging in the House of Commons last week about the lack of women in politics, David Cameron’s cock-heavy front bench prompted Ed Milliband to say: ‘”You run your government like the old boys’ network – that’s why you are failing women across your party and across the country.”

It seems paradoxical that despite being ahead academically, women are still behind in the workplace.

This is a trend that shows itself sharply at UAL, where the 2011-2012 figures for full-time undergraduate students show that 72.5 per cent are female versus 27.5 per cent male.

Perhaps this is down to the arts-led nature of our university, which proves that while we might be living in a post-feminist era, old trade divides still stand strong.

We also lag behind other universities in terms of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, with 29.4 per cent of students from manual occupation backgrounds, compared with the national average of 32.3 per cent.

Gender divide

Mostafa Rajaai, SUARTS Culture and Diversity officer, feels that the art and design nature of UAL contributes to this gender divide: “In general, art and design degrees pay less after graduation, which goes against the societal understanding that you will be making more money once you’ve earned your degree.”

Will the outperformance of women in college prefigure the world of tomorrow? Will we one day witness a fully female front bench, ladies stalking the oak-panelled corridors ready to administer the party pussy whip?

Reverting to these notions of the man being the provider leaves university and the debt that comes with it a luxury that some can’t afford to contemplate.

Not in my lifetime. And, instead of a reversal of current sex trends, I’d rather a genuinely representative one which mirrors the society we live in.

The Commons is not only male-centric, it is also populated with people from privileged, public school backgrounds.

Most of whom probably never doubted the fact that they would receive further education in a suitably well-heeled institution.

Perhaps our young male population have felt the strain of the recession more sharply, which Rajaai believes is led by “the uncertain atmosphere, created by the tripling of tuition fees despite widespread disapproval. The continuing rise in rents and the cost of living in general means some could view three years studying as three years lost where they could have been making money.”

“Some guys won’t get into serious relationships and settle down without that financial backing,” he adds.

Reverting to these notions of the man being the provider leaves university and the debt that comes with it a luxury that some can’t afford to contemplate.


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