University: male faces accepted
By Yudith Madrazo Sosa
March 27, 2018
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews
Women are opening up more and more spaces in the professional world.
When Juan Julio, after finishing high school, expressed his willingness not to take the Higher Education entrance exams, but to start working immediately on an uncle’s “palate”, his parents believed that the world was coming down on them. Accustomed to the above-average school performance from the young man, they always imagined him in a university classroom, where he would be trained as an engineer or professional in any other discipline.
However, the boy chose a different path, a shorter one that would lead him to “earn money quickly, without the need to be more tormented by his studies”. He wasn’t the only one in his group to make the decision. Before and after him, others decided the same thing. Such an attitude is part of a global trend: fewer and fewer male faces are being counted in universities.
According to data from the National Office of Statistics and Information (Onei), in Cienfuegos at the beginning of the 2016-2017 academic year, 5,212 students enrolled in Higher Education, of whom only 1,955 (37.5 percent) were men. Similar behavior had been recorded in previous periods.
If we look only at the numbers, the majority of girls in higher education would make us overflow with satisfaction, as we see how they are opening up more and more spaces in the professional world. But the fact, while reflecting the advancement of girls and young women, reveals the declining enrolment of boys at this level, a reality with different causes and whose analysis occupies many social researchers.
Some academics in the United Kingdom point out that the problem has its origins in primary education, although it is nourished by the economic reasons that discourage boys and lead them to think that a simple university degree is not worth the effort, time or financial resources necessary to obtain it. In the case of Cuba, although education is free, there are collateral costs during this time that not all families can afford. That is why some youngsters prefer to take the shortcuts that quickly lead to autonomy and economic solvency.
An inquiry by specialists from the Center for the Study of the Improvement of Higher Education (Cepes) of the University of Havana showed that in the 2014-2015 academic year, the preference for employment options was the main reason why high school students did not choose to move on to the next level. This interest is related to the economic reforms undertaken in the country, which open up multiple possibilities for non-state employment in areas where university degrees are not required and are better-paid than in the state sector.
But it is not always for these reasons that boys have less access to higher education institutions. Some who do have an interest fail because of insufficient school performance to meet that aspiration.
In this regard, research conducted by the University of Bristol sheds light on the fact that families tend to be more concerned about the school performance of girls than boys, with whom they are much more permissive. “Generally, parents are less concerned about their sons’ low grades than their daughters,” the inquiry says.
And it is not difficult to hear in our environment comments that support this idea. Phrases such as “if you want to leave school, you want to leave it, you want to become a mechanic like your father”; or “to be a driver, which you like, you don’t need to study so much”, are often expressed when you talk about your children’s professional future. Not so with their female peers, who almost always receive greater incentives: “study so that you can be someone in life and have your own money”, it is common to hear.
Let us add that the new forms of employment existing in the country are much more favorable for men. Although a not insignificant number of women have taken up self-employment, they are the majority of those who carry out the best-paid activities or run the juiciest businesses. These jobs undoubtedly have a powerful appeal to young people.
In the opinion of Dr. María Isabel Domínguez García, of the Centre for Psychological and Sociological Research of the Citma, “the intense feminization of Higher Education, although it is one of the great social achievements in the sense of promoting greater inclusion and equality of women, obliges us to consider policies that also stimulate the interest of young men in university education and guarantee the real possibilities of accessing and completing it successfully”.
One of these policies could be to stimulate the modality of courses by meetings, a good option for those children who need to work, as well as to make some processes more flexible in the regular daytime course, so that they can combine study with work.
Whatever the reasons why fewer men are coming to universities, it is urgent to explore mechanisms to achieve equity and create opportunities for girls and boys to live equally on campus.