A trailblazing new report from UCAS and Stonewall uncovers that nine out of ten LGBT+ students have a positive or neutral experience of the UK education system – and also shines a light on areas for improvement.
For many, higher education marks the beginning of a new period of possibility in their lives: freedom, independence, and an opportunity to find their place in the world. But for LGBT+ students, it also offers something greater– the chance to be their true selves. Today, a groundbreaking new report from UCAS, in partnership with Stonewall, looks into the experiences of the UK’s LGBTQ+ students preparing to start college and university for the first time. It shows that while there is still room for improvement, increasingly, our education system is seen as a space where we feel safe and free to be ourselves.
The report analysed responses from the one in 13 university applicants who declared they were LGBTQ+. Out of the nearly 3,000 students in that group, nine in ten reported positive or neutral experiences at school, with 75% saying this was due to them being accepted by their peers. Moreover, students indicated that they intend to be more open about their sexual orientation and gender identity in higher education, with overall levels of openness increasing from 64% at school to an expected 82% at university or college.
It’s heartening to see LGBTQ+ applicants be excited about being more open about their identity in higher education.
During a time of global uncertainty and disruption that has hit young people particularly hard, it’s heartening to see LGBTQ+ applicants be excited about being more open about their identity in higher education. But the study also highlights just how important it is for LGBTQ+ students to receive specialised support as they transition into further and higher education.
More than one in ten students stated they are unsure about how ‘out’ they can be when they start as freshers this autumn. One respondent replied: ‘I’ve faced a lot of transphobia and I don’t want to have to experience any more’, while another says: it’s personal and I still need time to find out for myself”. Others flagged that much depends on the attitudes of those around them.
The study revealed many new insights; LGBT+ students were more likely to declare a disability than non-LGBT+ students (30% vs 12%) and were more than four times more likely to declare a mental health condition (13% vs 2.9%). These figures rise to 47% and 22%, respectively, for trans students.
“At the turn of the millennium, teaching about LGBTQ+ subjects in schools was still illegal - this trailblazing research highlights the great progress made since then, with schools and colleges promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion", says Eloise Stonborough (she/her), Associate Director of Research and Policy, Stonewall.
There is still more we need to do to ensure all LGBTQ+ students are taught in an environment that allows them to fulfil their potential.
“As a result, we are now seeing LGBTQ+ students thrive, with more students feeling confident to be out at university. But the report shows that many lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer young people continue to struggle at school. With under half of LGBTQ+ students (47 per cent) describing their experience at school or college as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, there is still more we need to do to ensure all LGBTQ+ students are taught in an environment that allows them to fulfil their potential.”
The study makes several recommendations to create an environment where more LGBTQ+ students feel supported and able to achieve their potential in further and higher education. One is to ensure that LGBT+ individuals have tailored and relevant support – such as information and advice, mental health support, and specific services on campuses. The Department for Education is also advised to continue funding dedicated anti-bullying initiatives – which were discontinued after March 2020 – to train school and college staff in England and provide support for pupils affected by homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bullying.
It’s our hope that this study and its recommendations can make a crucial difference to LGBTQ+ students who deserve a supportive, welcoming experience throughout their time in further and higher education. You can download and read the full report below.