18 Aug 2016

Female enrolments fall at Canterbury University

9:18 am on 18 August 2016

The proportion of women students dropped below 50 percent at a major New Zealand university for the first time in a decade last year.

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Photo: AFP

On a full-time equivalent basis, 49.6 percent of students at the University of Canterbury in 2015 were women.

The figure followed several years of decline in enrolments at Canterbury since the 2011 earthquake.

Figures provided by Universities New Zealand show the first university to have more female than male students was Waikato in 1978 and in the same year Massey reached a 50/50 split.

However, women did not outnumber men nationally until 1986 and at Canterbury that did not happen until 2007. At Lincoln, the smallest university, it has never happened.

Canterbury vice-chancellor Rod Carr said a bigger proportion of the university's enrolments were now coming from enrolments in subjects dominated by men.

"In our College of Education for instance about 70 to 80 percent of those students are typically female and in the College of Engineering typically 80 percent of those students are male. What's happened over the past five years is the proportion of engineering students has risen and the proportion of arts and education students has declined."

Dr Carr said arts and education enrolments dropped more than other subjects after the 2011 Canterbury earthquake and had been slower to recover.

He said that was probably because many of the older and part-time students that used to enrol in those courses were more reluctant to change career or study part time because of uncertainty caused by the quake.

Dr Carr said enrolments were growing and he expected the proportion of women students would bounce back.

Last year, Canterbury had the equivalent of 11,865 full-time students, but it was likely to finish this year with the equivalent of about 12,500 full-time domestic students and 1100 full-time foreign students.

Dr Carr said in the meantime the change in the gender balance had not affected the university's culture.

"We've, for disruptive reasons, had a large number of our College of Engineering students actually being taught down at the College of Education campus so we've actually taken the guys to the girls as it were. So to some extent there's probably been more vibrancy and more mingling then there might have been before the earthquake."

Canterbury University Students' Association vice president Mikaela Ruegg said the change had not had any noticeable effects.

"I guess maybe if it was more [than] 50 percent male they might start to notice the demographic changing and maybe the culture changing, but currently there hasn't been anything noticeable," she said.

Nationally, 56 percent of full-time equivalent university students last year were women and Massey University had the highest percentage of women students at 62 percent.

The assistant vice-chancellor research, academic and enterprise at Massey, Giselle Byrnes, said the university's relatively high proportion of women was largely due it its extra mural programme.

"We have a significant cohort of students who are studying by distance and they are students who don't study in a face-to-face mode but they're using our online learning environment and a large proportion of them, close to 67 percent of our online learners, are women."

However, Professor Byrnes said women students outnumbered men right across the university's courses including the sciences.

Women students as percentage of equivalent full-time students (domestic and international):

Auckland - 55.4 percent

AUT - 58.4 percent

Waikato - 56.3 percent

Massey - 61.7 percent

Victoria - 55.9 percent

Canterbury - 49.6 percent

Lincoln - 47.6 percent

Otago - 57 percent

All universities - 56.4 percent

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