Universities can champion trans and gender diverse rights

View of John Anderson Campus from the north

Scotland’s colleges and universities have the opportunity to ‘champion the rights’ of trans and gender diverse people, says a new study.

The report by the TransEdu Scotland project, aimed at informing trans and gender diverse policy, surveyed 158 individuals on their experiences within Scotland’s Higher Education Institutions and colleges.

The results found that 86% of respondents reported experiencing barriers in relation to their gender identity with the biggest challenge concerning peer relationships with colleagues and fellow students. There were also numerous issues around the provision of gender-neutral facilities and navigating administrative processes.

Uniquely positioned

The survey, funded by the Scottish Funding Council and carried out by Dr Stephanie Mckendry and Dr Matson Lawrence of the University of Strathclyde, found that 35% of respondents had withdrawn from a course at a college or university before completion. Of those answering from a university perspective, 24% had withdrawn – higher than the average undergraduate withdrawal rate in Scotland of 7.9%. 

From college, nearly half of the respondents had withdrawn with the most common reason given by both groups being mental health issues.

The survey also found that 23% of respondents felt unable to disclose or discuss matters relating to their gender status while 33% felt only a little able to do so.

Dr Mckendry and Dr Lawrence said: “There is no evidence to suggest the HE and FE sectors are performing worse than other sectors in terms of trans equality and inclusion, as previous research also points to endemic issues in employment, healthcare, and service provision. “In fact, the HE and FE sectors are uniquely positioned to continue to drive change and champion the rights of trans and gender diverse people within and beyond their campus communities.

“While there is progress being made in this area and some good examples being set across the sector, there is generally a very low level of awareness amongst staff and students around trans and gender diverse identities and experiences. 

The sector must engage in sustained and committed programmes of trans awareness education, dialogue and celebration.

“This project has provided an evidence base on which to build support and provision for trans and gender diverse applicants, students and staff in the HE and FE sectors. It has identified areas of concern and provided clear recommendations, informed by those with lived experience, to improve provision and raise awareness.”

The project aims to inform institutional policy and underpin Gender Action Plans, Equality Impact Assessments, Athena SWAN applications and safeguarding strategies.

In their report the project team makes a series of recommendations on actions institutions can take to improve the experience of trans and gender diverse students and staff, including:

 Appointing a named contact for staff and students

  • Awareness training
  • Improved administrative processes
  • Promotion, visibility and celebration
  • Tailored support around study abroad and career opportunities
John Kemp, Interim Chief Executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: “We want colleges and universities to be places in which everyone is respected and supported to reach their full potential. Today’s report contains many challenging findings but alongside them the project team at Strathclyde has made some constructive recommendations which we are keen to support.”

Trans is an umbrella term used to denote people whose gender identity differs from their gender assigned to them at birth, while gender diverse and non-binary can denote individuals who experience their gender identity outside the binary of male and female.