• GDI Team

Diversity in Higher Education: A D&A View

I had first noticed the lack of gender diversity in school subjects during my Sixth Form education, aged 16. I then became acutely aware of this issue in university - only 15% of women in my engineering degree at university are female. Yet compared to my friend studying midwifery, this is a relatively high gender ratio - midwifery has a staggeringly low 1.1% proportion of male students. These variances in the number of men or women studying a degree are clearly not beneficial to society. In fact, research shows that this is not only a moral issue but also has financial implications. For example, research has shown that companies with equal men and women earn 41% higher revenue. Furthermore, senior management teams with 15% or more women in senior management roles benefit from a 5% increase in equity. Universities feed directly into the professional world and addressing the gender diversity issue at degree level should proliferate into the working world.

One reason for the disparity in males and females taking certain degree subjects is the requirements on pre-university qualifications. As an example, studying medicine often requires chemistry, and subjects such as computer science or physics nearly always require candidates to have studied the corresponding subject as part of their pre-university education. Therefore, the problem clearly stems from students' choice of subjects below degree level - and it is interesting to note that boys and girls from much younger ages already have preferences towards specific subjects, possibly as a result of social expectations.


school subjects


Universities themselves are working on the issue of gender diversity and many run women-only initiatives and programmes. Some universities are even piloting the use of gender quotas. In Scotland, the Scottish Funding Council plans to reduce the overall gap between male and female enrolments at university to 5%, and ensure no college or university subject has a percentage gender imbalance greater than 75/25, both by 2030- and this could be realised by using gender quotas.

One leading NFP in this area is Advance HE. They have developed a framework for use by institutions to support gender equality within higher education (HE) and research. This framework, the ‘Athena Swan Charter’, was established in 2005 to recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in STEM. It is now being used worldwide to address gender equality.

At the national level, there are organisations around the globe that aim to address the problem of women in university. A large number of NFP organisations aim to encourage women into degrees and careers pathways traditionally filled by men such as high-earning STEM degrees. Examples of these types of organisation in the UK are the Women’s Engineering Society, STEMettes and MINT (Men In Nursing Together). These types of Not-For-Profit organisations tend to offer a combination of outreach events, information talks, social media networks and scholarships. There are also a range of university-level organisations that I have encountered that tackle gender diversity. A vast majority are volunteer driven and student led. My university alone has the following initiatives: Oxford Women In Business, Women In Finance, Women In Engineering Science and Technology and Oxford Women In Computer Science. Typically these organisations offer resources and speaker events for a small subset of the university population. They are also invaluable networking opportunities for minority groups within a subject beyond university.

Data has been a massively important tool in identifying the gender diversity problem, partly because data is available for admissions and grades from most higher education providers. Key metrics for NFPs working in this area that can be drawn from this data are the number of men and women applying and being accepted onto each course. Also, employment data is a useful metric - it could indicate the quality of university experience and the impact of a degree for a pupil. Trends between genders in this data could point to a lack of gender inclusivity in courses, even past admissions. This data is constantly shifting and keeping data and facts readily available is important for the NFPs working in this space.

Data analysis is also vitally important for NFPs to measuring the effectiveness of schemes that they run to tackle this issue. NFPs need to know if their schemes have ultimately encouraged students to enter a specific field. Data analysis could have a big impact on smaller scale initiatives that don't currently use data tools, for example organisations working at an individual university level. Using data analysis to assess impact quantitatively would aid organisations in raising funding and sponsorship. As far as I have seen smaller university-level organisations are not using data to assess their impact and this could be an area that would greatly benefit from data analysis.

One final method that data analysis could aid NFPs working in this area is by investigating individual segments of an NFP's ‘target market’. For example an NFP could investigate whether there are sub-sections of those attending an event that are not benefiting as much as others, or whether there are certain demographic groups that are under-targeted with outreach? Ultimately, these types of questions could be answered far better by data analysis than by anecdotal evidence.

The spotlight on gender diversity in higher education is beaming brighter and change remains paramount. NFP work in the sector remains valuable and essential, but with the use of data & analytics, existing impact and transformation can be extended and aided even further. The time is now to take the resources of the data analytics space and transpose it into the educational NFP sector.

It is a challenge worth addressing.


This piece was written by GDI volunteer Oliver Bean, who undertook a 2021 Oxford University Micro-internship Program with the Good Data Institute. Learn more about our community at www.gooddatainstitute.com


About GDI

GDI unlocks the power of data within Australian and NZ not for profits. Our 100+ data analytics volunteers work for companies including Xero, BCG and Google and empower charities to increase efficiency, automate processes and increase impact. GDI volunteer teams have worked with over 30 NFPs, across large and small organisations – including Opportunity International, the NZ Red Cross, The Hunger Project, the NSW Nature Conservation Council, Inclusive America, and Caring Kids.

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