Women now dominate Britain’s universities and professions to such an extent that a leading institution has launched a campaign to recruit more “white males”.
The move by the Royal Veterinary College, where more than three-quarters of the intake are female, marks the first time that white men have been included in a strategy to help under-represented groups.
While the college is an extreme case, it reflects a wider trend of women overtaking men in education. Of the 24 leading universities in the Russell Group, only three have a majority of male students.
Across UK universities, 984,000 female undergraduates are studying for degrees, compared to 713,000 male. The gap is expected to widen in future years as new government rules make it easier for universities to recruit students with A-level grades of AAB or better, more of whom are female.
While last week’s A-level results showed boys narrowly outperforming girls at the A* grade for the first time, girls remained significantly more likely than boys to achieve grades in the upper range of A* to B.
According to Mary Curnock Cook, the chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the “very worrying gap” between male and female performance at school and university is leading to “fundamental shifts” in society.
Figures from professions which were traditionally male bastions reveal the workplace gender revolution.
In law, women made up 60 per cent of individuals qualifying to practise and admitted on to the roll of solicitors in 2010.
In the same year, 56 per cent of places in UK medical schools went to women, compared to less than a quarter in the 1960s, and it is predicted that by 2017 female doctors will be in a majority.
Yet while women account for 62 per cent of trainee GPs they make up less than a third of hospital consultants. A reluctance among female doctors to take on more demanding specialties, such as cardiology, has led to fears of shortages in key areas.
Women’s domination in veterinary science is also causing concern. About three-quarters of newly qualified vets are now female. By 2015, it is estimated that 90 per cent of those qualifying will be women.
The huge imbalance has prompted the Royal Veterinary College, with campuses in north London and Hertfordshire, to launch a campaign, outlined in its annual report to the admissions regulator Offa, to attract “white males”, among other under-represented groups such as pupils from poor backgrounds and ethnic minorities.
White males are defined as under-represented because while they make up about 45 per cent of the UK population, according to the last census, they account for only 20 per cent of the college’s intake.
Prospectuses and publicity materials have been redesigned to feature photographs and quotes from white male students. Visits to schools and college roadshows specifically target boys.
The college also targets other under-represented groups including ethnic minorities of both genders, who together make up about 10 per cent of the UK population but only 6 per cent of the students at the college.
They are sought out through schemes such as a science Saturday school for pupils from inner London.
By contrast, white women are overrepresented among the students, and are not being targeted for recruitment.
Professor Stephen May, vice-principal for teaching at the college, said: “Our concern is that just in terms of the professional community, having a good gender mix is healthy.
“It may be that in recent years, good quality male candidates have been attracted to more lucrative careers, such as banking.
“The decline in agriculture versus small animal practise could also be a factor. We are not in the business of quotas, that would be discriminatory, but we hope in the long term we will see progress with white males.”
This year, 84,000 more women applied to higher education than men. The only Russell Group universities where male students are in a majority are Cambridge, the London School of Economics and Imperial College, London.
Women outnumber men in the vast majority, including King’s College, London, where 67 per cent of students are female, and Cardiff University, where the figure is 60 per cent.
Mrs Curnock Cook said: “If you look at educational achievement through primary and secondary school and then university outcomes there is a very worrying gap between males and females.
“Somebody needs to address what it is about our education system that is allowing females to perform overall so much better than males. If this trend continues it will start to underpin quite a fundamental sociological change.”
While women are forging successful careers on the back of superior performances in school and university exams, some fear boys are being left on the scrap heap by an education system which disadvantages them.
Coursework and modular exams, less emphasis on the physical, outdoor curriculum and the lack of male teachers have all been blamed for boys’ underachievement. White working class boys now do worse at school than any other group.
Diane Houston, a psychology professor and graduate school dean at Kent University, said that whilst boys may be disadvantaged at school, women still faced a glass ceiling in the workplace.
“There are issues about the way in which schools have become feminised,” she said. “There is a culture in some schools which can be quite difficult for boys, the sitting still and being neat and organised.
“Some can be put off education at a critical point.
“But I’m not sure that at this point we should be screaming about percentage differences in attainment given the way in which women’s careers atrophy through their reproductive lives. There may be more women training to be solicitors, but the judges are men.”