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Studying abroad – Is there a gender gap?

The age-old question: What’s the gender gap amongst students who are studying abroad?

| 07 May 2012 | Updated on 31 Jan 2018 | 721 Views
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Gender gap in studying abroad

The introduction of Athena Swan Charter has changed the story of gender gap in education institutions to a certain extent, giving equal opportunities to both men and women to study abroad.

Why talk about gender gap? Because it exists! There have been several talks on the number of boys and girls studying abroad. While women have outnumbered men in various fields, we’ll see what the stats are when it comes to choosing an overseas degree.

Even though the number of students aspiring to go abroad to pursue higher studies keeps increasing every year, the ratio of boys to girls seems to vary. An estimated 5.53 lakh Indian students were studying in 86 different countries, in August 2017, and countries like the USA, Canada and Australia accounted for two-third of this number.

The ratio of boys to girls opting for higher studies abroad has always remained pretty consistent, with more boys going overseas to study than girls. It has been noted that peer pressure and other development differences, and, of course, the perceptions of career prospects are key factors in the ratio disparity.  Another factor to be considered is how many candidates are pursuing higher studies to return home and seek employment versus the number who look for opportunities abroad.

Some people might believe that female candidates are far more eager to go abroad and study than their male counterparts. Women are more open to change, adapting themselves to new environment and the fact that they seem to have a natural flair to tackle challenges. While on the other hand, men are not comfortable with too much change or putting themselves in vulnerable situations.  Studying abroad is all about being prepared for anything, and not knowing what to expect. The preparation done will help settle in or get acclimatised to the situation, the people, the course, the way of teaching, the life and so on, all that needs to be learnt on the go, which comes easier for women than men. Having said that, candidates need to know the opportunities that await them, if they are willing to go across the ocean and study at a good college or university.

Some colleges even state the changes in lifestyle as a reason for female candidates faring better abroad. They are known to focus on their studies, look towards making new friends, while male counterparts resort to habits or becoming a recluse and sticking to their books. In fact, the percentage of male students who drop out is alarming in some countries.

The introduction of Athena Swan Charter has changed the story of gender gap in education institutions to a certain extent, giving equal opportunities to both men and women to study abroad.

Athena Swan was introduced to address under-representation of women in science, decades ago. It awards different badges to institutes and departments, such as gold, silver and bronze, measured on different parameters.

Athena Swan 2017 has been awarded to 96 universities and 16 research institutes. Amongst the University award holders, 83 have received Bronze and 13 received Silver in 2017. Also, surprisingly, the number of Athena Swan applications has increased over time.

The origin of Athena Swan Charter in the UK has led to a global appreciation of women’s participation, more than ever, in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine) fields. Also the move has instituted the launch of SAGE pilot scheme in Australia which aims at promoting the research excellence of women scientists in Australia.

Some of the notable institutes that have employed the Athena Swan protocol include: Imperial College London, the University of Manchester, the University of Hertfordshire, Bangor University and Oxford Brookes University.

Monash University is one amongst the reputable institutes that have been following the SAGE pilot scheme, to improve the retention of women employees and enhance gender equity across STEMM disciplines. According to SAGE: “Women comprise more than half of science PhD graduates and early career researchers, but just 17% of senior academics in Australian universities and research institutes.”

So the question ‘Is there a gender gap?’ has different answers. Some universities have an equal number of men and women as students and staff, whereas some are still lagging behind for various reasons.

What are your views on gender gap amongst students who are studying abroad? 

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Sathya Priya Sathya Priya,
Study abroad expert.
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