The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) aims to tackle gender imbalance in professions like childcare, engineering, technology, hair and beauty, and construction. Ayrshire College vice principal Jackie Galbraith is a member of the Funding Council’s Gender Steering Group and invited Alison Malcolm, SFC Policy Analysis Officer, to summarise the recently published interim Gender Action Plan for colleges and universities.
Gender segregation stubbornly persists in many occupations in Scotland. Women continue to be under-represented in growing industries like engineering, technology and construction; and men are under-represented in occupations like teaching, nursing and hairdressing.
This is nothing new, but there are now ambitious plans to improve gender equality in Scotland’s colleges and universities.
The Scottish Funding Council invests around £1.5 billion of public money each year in the further and higher education sectors, and outcome agreements set out what colleges and universities plan to deliver for their funding allocation. For 2016-17 outcome agreements, the SFC has published guidance to address gender imbalance at a subject level in both colleges and universities.
Employers have told us that qualified male childcare workers are in high demand, yet this is one of the most imbalanced areas of study – 95% of students studying childcare-related courses in Scottish colleges between 2011 and 2015 were female.
Similarly, female ICT and construction graduates are highly sought after in industries which are facing significant skills gaps and actively seeking to be more representative of society as a whole.
In the Gender Action Plan Interim Report published in February 2016 (final version due in May) the SFC wants colleges to tackle the most imbalanced ‘super-classes’ as a priority and ensure that by 2030 no subject has a gender imbalance greater than 75:25.
Such imbalances continue to exist partly because of the gender stereotypes that all too often determine the subjects people choose at school and college. The choices students make about their courses affect career pathways and create “women’s jobs” and “men’s jobs”. This, in turn, affects wages, career earning potential and career progression opportunities.
The SFC’s first Gender Action Plan also includes aims for universities where male undergraduates, especially those from a deprived background, are currently under-represented. It aims to reduce the gap between the number of male and female undergraduates to 5 percent.
When we were talking to people about developing the Gender Action Plan, we heard from many in Scotland’s further and higher education sectors who believe that, while they could do something about gender segregation at college and university, ultimately they are working with young people who already have ingrained beliefs about the abilities of girls and boys.
The solution therefore needs to be multi-faceted. In our discussions many people stressed the importance of a ‘whole system’ approach to tackle fundamental beliefs about the roles of women and men. SFC recognises the importance of this and is working with partners like Education Scotland, the national body for learning and teaching in schools, to tackle gender equality at all stages of a person’s journey through education.
We need to ensure that all students, regardless of background or personal circumstances, have the best chance of accessing the right education for them – one which leads to sustainable employment. Whether Scotland, or any other country, can prosper and be economically successful depends upon the strengths and talent of all of its young people.
Our belief is that the workforce in sectors like engineering or early years education should not be restricted to the talent of half the population – it should be open to all.
Keep up to date with developments on the SFC Gender Action Plan by checking http://www.sfc.ac.uk/Priorities/Access/GenderActionPlan/GenderActionPlan.aspx