National Post

April 24, 2002

Women outnumber men by 20% on campus: study

Sarah Schmidt
National Post

A Canadian researcher suggests boys need remedial help to reverse the decade-long gender gap in university enrolment.

Stephen Easton, an economist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., says that for every 100 men enrolled at Canadian universities there are 120 women. The gap has been growing since 1987, when there was rough parity between the sexes.

"For years we've been encouraging girls because, after all, women were less likely to enter university. I think nobody noticed when it flipped over. I think it is something of a concern. What strikes me is we've sort of lost track of who is not going to school, and it's boys," Dr. Easton said yesterday.

The disproportionate financial benefits of a university education for women is partly to blame, he suggests. Since 1987, the return women get from a university degree has been rising, while the financial rate of return for men has been declining.

"Women seem to be doing relatively well compared to men, while men seem to be stagnating. It's not surprising we get the result we get on the demand side of things."

Dr. Easton's findings are published in a new book on post-secondary education. Renovating the Ivory Tower: Canadian Universities and the Knowledge Economy was released yesterday by the C.D. Howe Institute.

Dr. Easton, a fellow at the Fraser Institute, says education reforms were implemented to help redress a problem that defined the 1970s -- more boys were enrolling in university than girls.

Teachers began teaching differently to help girls thrive; students were evaluated in ways that were more favourable to girls, while less emphasis was placed on traditional testing methods, at which boys tended to perform better than girls. Dr. Easton said boys were hurt by such "girl-centric education."

For example, in British Columbia, while boys on average may receive higher or lower marks than girls on provincial finals exams, boys on average always receive poorer marks than girls in their school-based assessment, which accounts for 60% of a student's final grade.

"I think boys are being shortchanged. The same ratio that gave rise to push boys, we're at that position already with girls and we're not trying to do something about it. I'm trying to rein it in."

Dr. Easton suggested boys may need remedial help at high school to help redress the gender imbalance in university enrolment.

His research is part of a collection of essays that analyze the university sector as a capital-goods producing industry, of both knowledge and people. The contributions of university graduates to the economy, as measured by the incomes they earn, more than justify the investments made in their education, said David Laidler, the book's editor and an economist at the University of Western Ontario.

Ross Finnie, a professor of policy studies at Queen's University, charted the early career outcomes of recent graduates, broken down by discipline. He found that graduates tend to find well-paying jobs regardless of discipline, although liberal arts graduates take longer find their niche in the labour market.

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