Why the experience of LGBT+ students in education is important

Thursday 30 September 2021, UCAS advice

by Clare Marchant

Why the experience of LGBT+ students in education is important

Clare Marchant

By Clare Marchant, Chief Executive, UCAS

Arriving at your university campus for the first time is an exciting and nervous time for anyone and everyone, worth remembering as you meet new faces and explore new places. 

You may be arriving in a new town or city, and you may be far from home, but new starts often bring with them new opportunities. As you begin to live independently, maybe for the first time, this chance to be, and discover, yourself is an exhilarating prospect. In fact, it is one of the reasons that higher education continues to be an attractive route for students year upon year, and a truly transformational experience whether you are due to start an undergraduate course, apprenticeship or training.

Here in the UK, we are fortunate to have many incredible universities, colleges and apprenticeship providers to choose from, but we should also be grateful to live in a liberal society, as even today, many do not. Individuals are free to be just that – individuals. But at UCAS we aren’t looking through rose-tinted glasses - which is why we have been undertaking research to understand the experiences of the 40,000 LGBT+ students (7.2%) who explore opportunities with us each year.

We know from previous research by the Office for National Statistics that those aged between 16 and 24 are the most likely to identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, with an estimated 1.4 million people in the UK identifying as LGB – rising from 1.2 million the previous year. In 2018, 0.6% of the population identified as something other than heterosexual or LGB, increasing to 0.7% by 2019. 

Over 1 in 13 UK domiciled applicants identify as LGBT+, and 1 in 250 identifies as transgender, which is why in our new report Next steps: What is the experience of LGBT+ students in education? published in collaboration with Stonewall, we set out to find out the nature of the experiences that LGBT+ students are having as they enter university.

And overall, the picture looks good from the viewpoint of the almost 3,000 students who took part in our survey, with nearly 9 in 10 LGBT+ students having a good or neutral experience in education to date. 75% of these students said that this was due to them being accepted by their peers, so though this is a positive, there is room for improvement in the drive to make our communities and campuses more inclusive. 

We learnt that LGBT+ applicants were more likely to report a disability or mental health condition than their heterosexual peers. It is entirely up to you how and where you share this information, but you should be assured that universities, colleges and employers are well placed to support, with trained staff on hand to help. Around 1 in 3 LGBT+ students are already researching the services and resources available for their community when considering where to apply, so we know it’s on your minds before you pack your bags. 

But it is also clear that students are excited about their next steps in education and looking ahead to their futures. And why wouldn’t you all be, it’s a landmark moment as we emerge from the pandemic! Many of the students that we spoke to intended to be more open about their sexual identities when they started university, taking the opportunity to perhaps be freer in their expression of who they are. Overall levels of openness increased from 64% at school to an expected 82% at university or college.

At UCAS we are trying to find out more about under-represented groups to widen participation in higher education, and to create awareness of how equality, diversity and inclusion can be championed across education and skills. It is our ambition that all post-secondary opportunities feel and are totally open to all, and the journey to these should be fully inclusive – and this includes the journey to higher education. UCAS is actively seeking to improve the experience of LGBT+ progressing to university, college or apprenticeships, with more tailored information, and more identities, reflected throughout. In addition, I hope that by continuing research in these areas and by talking to students like you and learning from your experiences, that there is real potential to positively impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of students over the coming years. Which is what we are here to do.