More girls are going to uni: let's celebrate

Thirty Thousand more women than men are planning to go to university this September. That means that more than a third of women are more likely to consider university than men.

In terms of women’s liberation, this is fantastic – we can now celebrate, sure of the fact that women can achieve anything men can. When it comes to education, there is nothing stopping us.

This hasn’t always been the case. Towards the end of the 19th century, women were able to attend all-female colleges at some universities, like Oxford and Cambridge. But they were not allowed to obtain degrees. Why? Because women were not considered to be intellectually equal to men. When this was about to change, in 1897, a large group of men who didn’t want the new rules to pass held a ‘No Women at Cambridge’ protest, suspending a maimed effigy of a woman on a bicycle from a window. It was only through academic rigour and argument that women won the battle to be respected as equal to men.

And look at us now – outdoing men in the intellectual arena. But this is nothing new. For years educational reports have shown that girls outdo boys at primary and secondary school. And rather than look into how the education system is failing (predominantly white, working-class) boys, many have continued to argue that the fairer sex is worse off. Panics about getting women into STEM are about as hackneyed as the call to smash the patriarchy. Even though women are statistically more likely to go to university and enjoy higher education for longer than men, many still believe we are disadvantaged.

Of course, what’s not so great about these news stats is the fact that so many young men have failed to secure a place at university, or haven’t tried in the first place. University has changed, and with dropping standards – and censorship rife on university campuses – you might not blame young guys for not being bothered about experiencing student life.

We should have a conversation about why young men are less likely to go to university, as well as the fact that numbers of all young people going to university have reportedly dropped this year. But can we now stop the handwringing about young women’s aspirations? Can we stop asking ‘will pink shoes stop her from achieving’, ‘will gender norms stop her from aiming high’? It’s time to put to bed the notion that gender is an unsurmountable barrier for young women. Just for a moment, it would be nice if we could leave aside all the nonsense about patriarchal society and sexist systems, and take this moment to say: good on the girls.

Ella Whelan is assistant editor at spiked. Her new book, What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism, will be published in September by Connor Court. Follow her on Twitter: @Ella_M_Whelan

For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.

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