‘Universities should be made to accept an equal number of male and female students for every subject.’
Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

The political classes widely acknowledge that education plays a vital role in wider social gender equality and equal opportunities. Furthermore, a fair, progressive and tolerant society requires an end to divisive statistical discrepancies that create institutionalised sexism. Yet arguments asking for 50/50 quotas across institutes such as universities are not the solution as they create as many problems as they resolve.

For many idealistic concepts reality often undermines theory, and this is the case in putting strict quotas on university applications. The quantity of each gender applying for particular subjects is not even (and there may be myriad reasons for this) and thus to achieve an equal split of successful applicants would require reverse discrimination: a disproportionally high number of one group must be accepted, and rejection rates will be subsequently and overwhelmingly unbalanced. As the overall aim of the policy is an increased degree of fairness, a solution which merely manipulates numbers at the expense of a majority is not appropriate.

To further the argument against enforced 50/50 quotas, one should also consider the problems created for the university and society in dismissing a number of applicants on the grounds of simply existing in a gender majority. As well as possible legal actions, universities face large losses of income as swathes of potential students have to reconsider their futures, either by foregoing the chance to attend higher education or forcing themselves into subjects they do not desire. This would be an example of society ‘cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face’, and is absurd policy making.

That said, there can be a place for quotas in improving diversity; however, they must work with the actuality rather than attempt to distort it. To achieve this percentages must be flexible rather than set, and outstanding applicants should not be refused. If quotas are to be introduced a two-tier system in which gender is irrelevant to the best candidates but considered for filling remaining course places could be considered.