A student leader has warned against “excuses and complacency” regarding the promotion of gender equality in Scottish colleges and universities, following the publication of a key report.
New long-term targets designed to address huge gender imbalances in some academic subjects are welcome, said NUS Scotland’s women’s officer Emily Beever.
But the Scottish Funding Council’s interim Gender Action Plan should not be used as an excuse to fail to address the “ingrained problems” in wider society, she added.
The action plan will encourage college initiatives to promote gender equality – including the introduction of single-sex courses in order to encourage under-represented groups into specific subjects.
The action plan should mean that by 2030, no single subject will have more than 75 per cent of its students of one gender, according to the SFC. Gender equality will be included in college outcome agreements from next year. These agreements set out the targets and priorities that a college region has to meet in return for its government funding.
According to data from the SFC, 95 per cent of college students in vehicle maintenance and repair between 2011 and 2014 were male. In electrical engineering, 96 per cent of students were male. In childcare services, 95 per cent of students were female, as were 96 per cent of hair and personal care students. While these statistics only include HE and FE students at college, similar disparities exist in Modern Apprenticeship courses.
Student body NUS Scotland welcomed the publication of the report, the final version of which is due to be published in May.
‘A starting point’
Ms Beever said it was “much-needed”, but she added: “We must not, and cannot, rest on our laurels and accept these targets as the end goal. While the proposed target is a welcome starting point in addressing the shocking lack of diversity that exists in many subjects, it’s one that will require constant monitoring, and must remain a starting point.” She added there was now a need for officials at all stages of education to come together to tackle the deep underlying causes of this imbalance.
“Having such long-term targets cannot be used as an excuse to avoid action, but instead must be seen as a clear message that we cannot accept superficial changes to admission policies,” said Ms Beever. “Instead, we hope to see the sector respond to this plan by going beyond ratios, and addressing the problems ingrained in the system and wider society.”
In its interim report, the SFC said Scotland “could not wait” for factors in wider society to change before taking “positive action”.
Only days before the report was published, West College Scotland announced that it was launching an all-female “introduction to computer science” course to address the underrepresentation of women in the tech industries.
Last year, TESS reported on an all-female engineering course at City of Glasgow College, while the Men in Childcare scheme offers free childcare courses for male students at a number of colleges across Scotland.
Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said colleges recognised that gender imbalances in employment were the result of various social factors that affect young people’s decision-making.
But colleges would work to reduce gender stereotyping and negative social attitudes that result in gender imbalances, she added.
‘These are positive goals’
The Men in Childcare scheme offers free childcare training to men across Scotland. The 16-week introductory evening course, part-funded by local authorities, is available at Edinburgh College, New College Lanarkshire and City of Glasgow College.
Founder and manager Kenny Spence says that his organisation is “delighted” with the Scottish Funding Council’s action plan. “Childcare, as with most gender under-represented occupations, can be a difficult nut to crack due to lack of awareness, lack of opportunity and lack of structured key training paths,” he says.
“These are long-term goals and positive goals which can make a significant change to the university and college sector, thereby helping to make childcare a more inviting career for men.”
Mr Spence says his initiative, founded 15 years ago, has had a significant impact both on the number of men working in childcare and those training to do so.
The ‘single-sex’ subjects
Gender representation on FE courses in Scotland:
Vehicle maintenance and repair: 95 per cent male
Electrical engineering: 96 per cent male
Mechanical engineering: 93 per cent male
Childcare services: 95 per cent female
Hair and personal care: 96 per cent female
Source: Scottish Funding Council