18 March 2010

"Dr Finlay no more..."

There is much to be interested in in the Students in Higher Education at Scottish Institutions 2008 – 09 statistical report. Did you know that Scotland hosts some 279,615 students, of which 137,720 are labouring on their first degrees, or that last year there were 9,935 postgraduate researchers locked away in garrets, sharpening their quills? In 2008/09, the country’s most populous higher educational institution (HIE) was the University of Edinburgh, numbering 24,525, with the University of Glasgow only slightly smaller, with 24,240 students. By contrast, the smallest HIE institution is the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, with a slim 765 students last year. HIEs account for 82.7% of all students in the country. Then there are the wealth of Scotland’s colleges. Here are a few interesting details that particularly caught my eye, organised by broad theme.


Gender divisions in education prove interesting too. In terms of the total student population (all figures for 2008/09 except where given otherwise), only 43.8% of students are male, while 56.2% are female. Divided into HIEs and colleges, however, shows differences in the gender balance. Of the 231,260 folk in HIEs, 42.6% are male, with 57.4% of students being female. Of undergraduate entrants in 2008/09, 62.2% were female compared with 37.8% male. In brute numerical terms, 34,300 more women than men now study in a Scots HIE. In colleges, by contrast, males make up 49.5% of the 48,355 total, females 50.5%. Divisions by subject also show some striking deviations along gender lines. Focussing on HIEs, take ‘Medical Studies’, which includes subjects allied to medicine, alone with dentistry and medicine proper. A whopping 78.3 % of these students (there are 39,025 of them) are women, men toddling along after them on a mere 21.7%, the lowest % of male students of all subject areas. Dr Finlay this is not. Among students of veterinary science, the proportions are similar. 73.8% of students are female. Female dominance is also clear in education and languages. 76.2% of education students are women, and 67.1% of linguists. Similar figures are replicated in the college column. Contrast this with Science and Engineering subjects. In HIEs, 66.9% of architects are male, 85.5% of engineers, 80.4% of computer scientists, 56.3% of mathematicians. Even in law, with its crusty Old Boy image, basically replicates the average – 42.7% male, 57.3 female. Interestingly, perhaps contributing somewhat to an explanation of the quiet feminine voice in the blogosphere, students of economics and politics elbow the feminising trend, with 56.6% of students being male.


Consider your modal student. In their early 20s, probably? Although most students do fall into that age bracket, the figures also reveal a woof of more complexity, a more many-aged weave. 84,270 students are aged 30+, 44,540 aged 40+ and 4,890 60+. Interestingly, of the 52,695 who are undertaking postgraduate study, only a quarter are aged under 25 with over 50% (27,710) being between 25 and 39 years of age.


The subject of access to education is a post in and of itself, frankly. That said, here are the statistical headlines. The proportion of entrants to HR that come from the 20% most deprived areas in the nation stands at 14.9%, compared with the 19% of the population statistically held to live in those areas. The report uses the language of under and over-representation. In terms of which, 21.7% of entrants at colleges come from these deprived areas, while making up only 7.8% of the intake at the ancient universities.


There are also interesting stories about the international “life of the mind” of these Scots institutions woven through these figures. While 75.8% of students were Scottish domiciled (212,010) with 22,520 (or 8.1%) being English domiciled, some 39,085 students are classified as from being “overseas”. China, for example, furnishes Scottish institutions with 5,130 students, India with 3,975, the United States with 3,230. Ireland is next on the list, sending 2,830 across the waters, followed by Nigeria with 2,505 studying in Scotland. Interestingly, the distribution of participation seems to vary depending on origin and level of study. For example, in 2008-09, 13,850 EU nationals were educated in Scotland. 4,125 of them at postgraduate level, 8,820 on their first degree. Among Non-European students, the pattern sharply differs. Of a total 23,820 international students in 2008/09, 14,075 are in postgraduate study, with 6,690 labouring away at their first degrees. It was, after all, studying in Utrecht which partially enabled James Boswell to quip with feeling and authenticity.

“I am, I flatter myself, completely a citizen of the world. In my travels through Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Corsica, France, I never felt myself from home.”

Although the fact and its history is hardly understood by many of the students at that Dutch Universiteit, it is not insignificant that their language centre is called the James Boswell Instituut. It is partly through experiencing these institutions that I remain decidedly a nationalist and internationalist, both, without contradiction.

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