Queen's University — Since 1873
30th July 2013

Higher expectations, higher education

Female students prevail in numbers at Canadian universities

Women continue to dominate university enrolment; three out of five Queen’s undergraduate students are female.
Women continue to dominate university enrolment; three out of five Queen’s undergraduate students are female. (Colin Tomchick)

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Women have been dominating undergraduate enrolment in university.

A 2011 survey of Queen’s reported that 59 per cent of full-time students are female. In 1950, only 21.6 per cent of Canadian undergraduates were women, according to Statistics Canada.

Data compiled in the Statistics Canada archives show a constant increase in women’s enrolment in university over the years. More recently, female enrolment numbers have plateaued, but they still surpass men’s enrolment.

Queen’s sociology professor Cynthia Levine-Rasky said it’s hard to determine the exact reason behind this.

“I think the women’s movement has a lot to do with it, and its effects have trickled down from mothers to daughters,” she said.

“Young women take the desire to be financially independent very seriously, and they take their lives seriously — they plan, they study, they focus. Not all, of course, but many do, perhaps a larger proportion of them do than young men.”

In the past, an increase of female enrollment in university programs has caused controversy.

Some believed new reforms in the education system lead to teachers being unable to support male students and producing stronger female students, Levine-Rasky said.

“Feminists reject this argument as sexist. That argument is advanced by men who feel threatened by strong, educated, independent women,” she said.

While women represent a majority of students enrolled in undergraduate programs in Canada, they’re not the majority in every program.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada report that women represent a smaller percentage of students enrolled in computer science and engineering-related programs.

At Queen’s, 25 per cent of students in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science are women, as are 35 per cent of Computer Science students.

“Women need to be encouraged to enter those disciplines that remain male-dominated, especially engineering, natural sciences, business, as well as college and vocational programs like the skilled trades,” Levine-Rasky said.

Overall, she believes the higher amount of female enrolment is a positive step.

“It also hopefully encourages young men to step up their efforts in order to compete,” she said. “In the past, male privilege went unchallenged.”

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