January 25

The further education landscape in 2023 and changing gender divide

Applying to university is an important and life-changing opportunity for our Year 13 students and has the power to truly impact and enhance their life experiences. Last year, 77% of our Year 13 students applied successfully to Russell Group Universities and the diversity of courses was astonishing; from History of Art at the Coulthard School, Civil Engineering, Economics and Finance, through to Architecture at the Bartlett School, UCL. Our students are decisive and interested in the range of opportunities presented by the world of further education. 

What’s interesting is the way in which the landscape of university applications is changing. Did you know that the Covid-19 pandemic actually encouraged more students to apply to university? Students are thinking about university as early as primary school. Furthermore, last year far fewer UK students got into Oxbridge, due in part to demand, but also financial implications connected with international students, and the lack of expansion of Oxbridge colleges. These are just some of the factors influencing young people’s experience of university application.  

So what about the gender divide? Interestingly, it would appear female students from London are the most likely to apply for and thus attend university – more so than any other group. There is also a significant picture nationally. Some universities are statistically more female-dominated such as the Royal Veterinary College, the oldest and largest veterinary college in the English-speaking world. Connected to the University of London, it provides undergraduate and postgraduate courses in veterinary medicine and veterinary nursing. It is also one of the best universities in the UK for biosciences. This sole focus on veterinary sciences is exactly why there is such a difference between the number of female and male students at the RVC. The veterinary career is 60% female, and the university’s disparity reflects that. 

But can the same be said for STEM subjects? This is an area of great flux and change. For many years, women have been underrepresented and it has been hard to break the glass ceiling. According to UCAS, 35% of female students went into STEM subjects in 2018 and recent statistics are no more favourable – so why is this trend so pervasive? The World Cup victory of the Lionesses suggests that female students can make the same strides in male-dominated fields and it would seem the difference is impactful from a very young age. If female students are introduced to STEM at a young age, they are far more likely to go on to study a STEM-related course at university which we see very strongly in our students at Blackheath High School.  

Percentage of female STEM students in higher education

SLT Blog STEM stat image

Source: UCAS, 2018

In 2022, 20% of university places were in STEM subjects, which is testament to the strength of our STEM teachers and the importance we place on all subjects and personal choice in the Sixth form. This emphasis on personal choice and the importance of developing these skills has continued in 2023, with 47% of Year 13 students applying for STEM-related subjects. This success can undoubtedly be attributed to our STEM provision at Blackheath High School. Our co-curricular offer is second to none and allows our students flourish in STEM subjects, from edible STEAM club through to Medical Dissection and Eco club, there is something for everyone to enjoy in order to understand and develop their passion for STEM.  

Other references: STEM Women whitepaper, ‘Understanding the Gender Imbalance in STEM’, 2019-2022 

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