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New data: Gender gap closes among architecture students

Warwick university students union by mjp image by rwendland
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The gap between the number of women and men studying architecture is at its narrowest in a decade, according to the higher education admission service

The latest figures from UCAS show that 2,300 women were accepted to study architecture at UK universities in September 2016, compared with 2,425 males – a ratio of 49:51 per cent.

The biggest gap in the past 10 years came in 2008, when universities accepted 1,680 women and 2,555 men – a split of 40:60 per cent.

Professor Fionn Stevenson, head of the School of Architecture at the University of Sheffield, said it was ‘just a matter of time until girls caught up with boys’ and that it had been ‘really helpful’ for them to see strong women role models in architecture such as the late Zaha Hadid.

She said UK television shows such as Grand Designs had also had a positive impact. ‘It has been noticeable that there have been a number of women architects and strong women clients represented in these programmes,’ she said. ‘I think it has really helped to have the visibility of women in architecture increased in that way.’

However, Stevenson said the profession still had a ‘long way to go’ because there was still a ‘huge gap’ between the number of women who set out to study architecture and those who became architects.

‘There are very deep societal, structural issues that particularly apply to architecture which prevent women from being able to take part as fully as they might wish to,’ she said. ‘A major one is childcare and the fact that, in this country, we don’t have free childcare for parents of very young children. And, at the same time, practices still have a long way to go in terms of providing more flexible working practices.’

Stevenson said some practices have a ‘strong macho culture of working 24/7’. ‘That’s really discouraging for a woman – or a man indeed – who wants to raise children,’ she said.

Professor Alan Dunlop, chair of contemporary architectural practice at the University of Liverpool and visiting professor at Robert Gordon University’s Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and Built Environment, said women were the top students in 65-70 per cent of the 12 years he had been teaching. ‘It has always been a puzzle to me why these talented young women never make it as head of practice,’ he said.

It has always been a puzzle why these talented young women never make it as head of practice

But he said there was a a growing recognition of the ‘untapped resource’ of talented women in practices. He added that the Women in Architecture programme, founded by AJ editor Christine Murray, had helped raise the profile of female architects.

Separate UCAS figures reveal a total of 16,620 women had applied to study undergraduate architecture, building and planning courses from September 2017 by the 15 January deadline, a 5 per cent increase on last year. In comparison, there was a 2 per cent rise in male applicants – up to 23,170.

Applications from women in the UK to study architecture-related courses have grown 9 per cent year on year to 10,420, the largest percentage increase – matched only by law – for UK women of subject groups tracked by UCAS. The number of applications from men has risen 2 per cent to 19,150.

The number of women from EU countries outside the UK applying to study architecture, building and planning courses has fallen 1 per cent year on year to 2,400, while the corresponding figure for men has dropped 3 per cent to 1,280. There were 3,790 non-EU female applicants (a 2 per cent decrease) and 2,740 men (little change on the 2016 total of 2,730).

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