Spin and the art of reporting about gender

A recent burst of data has been made available about the gender makeup of universities in the UK. Reading through some of the statistics, what I found most striking is that while women significantly outnumber men in terms of the overall number of people attending universities, this discrepancy starts to disappear when you look at the most elite universities. And even more strikingly, men still significantly outnumber women at both Oxford and Cambridge. There seems to be some sort of “glass ceiling” effect – at least from looking at the numbers – when it comes to women in UK higher education.

But that’s not the way these numbers are getting reported, obviously. These numbers are getting reported as: Men! Where are the men?!?! Good heavens, what have we done to the poor men? How can we help the men??? [clutches pearls]

The Guardian has the full spread of numbers, if you’re curious.

2 thoughts on “Spin and the art of reporting about gender

  1. There’s also massive gender segregation by subject. http://www.ecu.ac.uk/publications/equality-in-he-stats-2012 is pretty much the bible of UK higher education stats – on page 38 of the volume on students:

    “Women made up 51.0% of students studying SET subjects. There were particularly high proportions of women in subjects allied to medicine (80.0%), veterinary science (75.5%) and biological sciences (62.2%). However, male students comprised the majority of students in engineering and technology (83.8%), computer science (82.0%) and architecture, building and planning (68.3%).

    “With the exception of business and administrative studies (48.6%), female students were in the majority for all non-SET subjects. Particularly high proportions of students studying education (75.4%) and languages (67.8%) were women.”

  2. Nice comment from Janet Beer, VC at Oxford Brookes and also co-chair of the Equality Challenge Unit:
    “…this headline conceals a wealth of complexity and contradiction – not least that the proportion of male applicants to higher education, in the six years to 2011, increased and that, this year, entry rates for students from disadvantaged areas and receiving free school meals grew as well.

    “It may be the case that in isolating one issue we are in danger of doing two things which may not aid us in addressing the problems that undoubtedly exist. First both the sector and government lay themselves open to accusations of pitting one identified minority against another. And, second, reacting to a single concern may distract attention from, or even diminish, the importance of paying attention to the complex questions of equality that are looming in higher education.

    “We should build on the spirit of openness already evident in this debate and discuss the practical actions Patrick McGhee calls for. However, the discussion must address a wider range of concerns…”

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