University College London (1827-9), by William Wilkins and J Gandy Deering

At UCL this evening we will launch the Gender Equity Network with an inaugural lecture questioning the wisdom of imposing gender equality policies on universities.

UCL’s spiritual founder, Jeremy Bentham, has been described as a pugnacious critic of established political doctrines. He created the concept of utilitarianism with its axiom: “It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people that is the measure of right and wrong”. Bentham’s axiom seems the perfect antidote to the ideology of political correctness which appears to measure right and wrong according to the greatest happiness of a small but vocal group  of career women. I believe we have Bentham’s blessings upon us. UCL is a great place for the Gender Equity Network to start.

Academia has been spewing feminist legitimacy for decades – giving the oxygen feminism needs to survive. We  have never been able to question feminist precepts  or explore feminism objectively and be able to go on getting funding for research.

Athena SWAN is the scheme which patrols gender  inequality in academia. Started only a few years ago, it seeks to ensure that funding to universities who are engaged in science-related research is dependent on evidence of active participation in equality schemes.  You could say that the feminist thumb screws are really on.

Supporters of Athena SWAN are interested in ensuring more women have top jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) and arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL). Conspicuously, they are not trying to cajole women into less desirable jobs – such as refuse collection – mostly done by men.

They are only interested in one aspect of gender inequality in education – gender issues relating to staffing in higher education. This is also the only area in the whole of the education system where women appear to be the victims of inequality rather than men.  And even here, below the senior levels, there is no significant gender gap in terms of numbers of academic staff overall. It is only in some subjects, or at senior levels, that men dominate higher education staffing numbers. Even these differences appear to be a result of diminishing numbers of women employed at older ages – ‘the leaky pipeline’ – and in fact those who do reach seniority do so at the same age as men. This suggests that if you stick at the job your chances of making it to the top are equally fair.

Even this ‘leaky pipeline’ does not appear to be about discrimination but rather about different career and family choices made by women and men.  At the moment all the funding to tackle inequality seems to go into one little corner of the education system where inequality isn’t even about unfairness. Surely this funding could be better spent?

For example boys are falling badly behind girls in school educational attainment with the gap between the percentage of girls attaining A*-C at GCSE and the percentage of boys is persistent and unaddressed. The number of boys taking A levels is smaller than the number of girls by 20 per cent and more girls than boys got good A Levels (defined as grades A*, A or B) namely 11 per cent, 27 per cent or 36 per cent more respectively.

The far more dramatic inequality which we see at these lower levels then feeds into the very worrying gender gap which we have been hearing about in the news. Last year for example the number of girls seeking university places was a third larger than the number of boys who are finally being identified as a ‘disadvantaged group’.

This means that many more women are attaining higher qualifications than men. For example if we look at all science-based subjects, the number of women graduates exceeds that of men at first degree levels by 7 per cent. In all non-science based subjects, the number of women graduates exceeds that of men at first degree level by 58 per cent and by 56 per cent at postgraduate level. Men dominate women in just five subject areas: physical sciences, maths, computer science, engineering and architecture. These five subjects constitute just 17 per cent of the total qualifications awarded at first degree and postgraduate levels combined. Women by contrast dominate emphatically in those subjects which account for 83 per cent of qualifications gained.

All this inequality, which is of far more consequence to generations of young people than the number of female professors doesn’t just go under the radar. It is totally and utterly ignored.

This is just one of the issues which we hope to draw your attention to through our series of lectures. Broadly speaking, we will be asking questions which seem obvious to the lay person but seem taboo in academia, the media and in government. Through developing a new dialogue we aim to promote a common sense consensus on these issues, and bring about the type of fair and equitable reform which will benefit men, women and the children who rely upon them.

We at UCL are apparently “recognised for our radical and critical thinking and its widespread influence”. UCL itself aims to “transform how the world is understood” and is “committed to changing [the world] for the better”.

We, at the Gender Equity Network, share those visions and I hope that UCL appreciates the valuable contribution we have to make.

The inaugural lecture will be given this evening by psychologist Dr John Barry at UCL’s A.V. Hill Lecture Theatre at 6.15. All are welcome to attend.