Male students remain underrepresented in Australian universities. Should we be concerned?

By Frank Larkins, Professor Emeritus in the School of Chemistry and a former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne.

In this analysis of enrolments across Australian universities, Frank Larkins looks at gender representation among domestic students.

Summary of findings

Females accounted for 58 percent of all domestic students enrolled in Australia Universities in 2016. The ratio is 100 females to only 72 males. This proportion is above the Australian demographic distribution where 49.5 percent of females are in the age group 15 to 39 years and 55 percent are in the age range 15 to 59 years. The proportion of female postgraduates is higher than for undergraduates, accentuating the imbalance. Of the 42 universities in Australia 35 have more female than male students with two having more than70% females. The gender gap is a worldwide phenomenon with the OECD reporting that women now account for 56 percent of students enrolled in higher education. Some countries are highlighting the trend as a society challenge.

There are more domestic undergraduate female students than males in 7 of designated 10 fields of education. The concentration is in three fields, society and culture, health, management and commerce. Males are dominant in only two fields, information technology, engineering and related technologies at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. This is the norm globally. The longer-term consequences for Australian society of this imbalance are serious, but rarely discussed.

By contrast, there are fewer overseas female enrolees (48.3%) than males. Of ten fields of education, management and commerce courses are the most popular for both females and males at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Interestingly, despite their lower numbers undergraduate females represent a higher proportion of enrolees in seven fields of education. The gender distribution from various nationalities strongly reflect cultural differences. At one extreme 68% of students from the Philippines are female, while only 10% of students from Pakistan are female. Of the 24 nationalities that had more than 2000 higher education students studying in Australia in 2016, the majority (13) had more females than males.

The male participation gender imbalance has consequences for Australian society, including cultural and wealth distribution changes. While celebrating strong female participation further proactive strategies are required to encourage more males to complete year 12 studies and attend universities.

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Professor Emeritus Frank P. Larkins