SEXISM AND HIGHER EDUCATION IN BRITAIN: It’s no surprise if men decide university isn’t for them: Why are researchers preoccupied with ‘lad culture’ when the under-representation of men among students is the real problem, asks Joanna Williams.

Male students have become a rare breed in UK universities.

They were first outnumbered by women as far back as 1992 and, since then, the gender gap has increased annually.

Statistics released by Ucas last week show that this year almost 100,000 more women than men have applied for a university place. In England, women are 36 per cent more likely to submit an application than their male peers; among those from disadvantaged backgrounds this rises to 58 per cent.

Imagine for a minute what would happen if these figures were reversed. I have no doubt there would be panicked calls for an inquiry into what was causing such dramatic gender inequality. There would be demands for better outreach programmes, publicity campaigns and positive discrimination to get girls into higher education.

In reality, the news that boys are significantly less likely to apply to university has passed with little comment. . . .

Research exploring why white working class men are less likely to go to university does exist, but as even a rough count of journal articles shows, it comprises a tiny fraction of the research published in this area. Too often the under-representation of men is written off as either a “non-issue” or rectifying an historical injustice.

The dominance of feminism within educational research limits both the topics explored and the perspectives adopted. Rather than evaluating the nature and meaning of female success and the creation of new sites of gender inequality, researchers instead seek out the few remaining areas where women can still claim to be at a disadvantage. Attention is drawn to the greater number of male professors and vice-chancellors rather than the sharp increases in female students, postgraduates, researchers and academics.

Alternatively, current research into higher education and gender focuses on the “problem” of masculinity in universities. Growing attention is being paid to “laddism” or “lad culture” and the difficulties this apparently poses for all in universities. Male students are criticised for being confrontational in seminars and disruptive in lectures. It is suggested that they hinder not just their own learning but that of their female classmates too.

Even relatively mild-mannered male students are considered to dominate seminars in a way that silences female voices. For some lecturers, it seems, the presence of men in their classroom is a particular challenge to be managed, rather than simply being part and parcel of the often mundane experience of teaching.

Clearly, the only way we can achieve equality in higher education is to ban men from universities entirely.