Almost 100 students at top universities requested to change gender on records, first figures show

Gabriella Swerling
Jess Bradley was the first person to be elected to the full-time paid role as Trans Officer by the National Union of Students (NUS). - TELEMMGLPICT000194674743.jpeg /TELEMMGLPICT000194674743.jpeg 

Almost 100 students at the UK’s top universities have requested to change their gender on official records, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal, as universities are accused of “disturbing” failures to protect trans students from abuse.

Between 2016 and 2018, 86 students at Russell Group Universities asked to formally change their gender on the student record. Those studying at the University of Oxford submitted the highest number of all applications with 24 requests.

The figures provide the first indication of the numbers within the trans student population and mark a growing awareness of trans people and issues in the UK.

However Freedom of Information data from all 24 Russell Group institutions also revealed that even more students - 89 - sought help with university services regarding gender transitioning and gender questioning. Almost half of them - 39 - were studying at the University of Warwick.

Charities and campaigners have applauded the increasing recognition of trans minorities on campuses, but  described the cases where eight students had complain of discrimination as “disturbing”. They said that The Sunday Telegraph data emphasises how “there’s more to do to help trans students” and called on  UK universities to show “more visible support and leadership”.

In contrast, some academic experts said that the process of recording results by gender will be rendered “meaningless” as increasing numbers opt to change their gender on record.

The data shows that students at Oxford made the most requests to change their gender on the record, followed by 15 at Queen’s University Belfast, 14 at the University of Warwick and 10 at the University of Leeds. Meanwhile after Warwick, students in Bristol were most likely to seek help for trans issues - with 37 accessing student services within three years, followed by ten in York and three in Liverpool.

However all the figures are likely to be higher as some universities offered values such as ‘less than 10’ so as not to identify individuals. Furthermore, far more students identify as trans than just those who requested to change their gender on the student record.

There were also eight complaints of discrimination over the same three-year-period. These included two studying at the University of Glasgow, a further two at the University of Newcastle, and one student at Southampton, Bristol, York and the London School of Economics, respectively.

This comes amid fears of that such provision is becoming less of a priority for universities as the National Union of Students recently announced that it is scrapping its Trans officer role due to funding cuts.

Last summer, Britain’s first officer for transgender students, Jess Bradley, an environemental sciences graduate from the universities of Manchester and Bradford,  was suspended over allegations that she posted explicit photographs on an online blog.

Dr Jane Hamlin, president of the Beaumont Society, the national transgender support group, said: “It is disturbing that there have been a number of complaints about gender or transgender discrimination, because such discrimination is illegal.

There is clearly a need for support for trans students and the counsellors who try to help them. It would seem extremely unfortunate of the NUS to decide not to keep its trans officer role. Perhaps university staff and students are not aware that this role exists and have not been using this valuable resource as effectively as they might.

“Occasionally individual universities do contact the Beaumont Society for information or advice about how they can help an individual student and we help if we can.”

Dr Hamlin added that transgender people are often “lonely, frightened and vulnerable” and that being trans is “not a lifestyle choice”.

“Most wish that they were not trans because life would be so much easier for them if they were cisgender, but it is who we are, it was how we were born. Most people try to keep it hidden and hope that it will go away, but eventually a point is reached where it becomes obvious that it won’t go away.”

In September a “startling” academic study was published on the US revealing that transgender adolescents are far more likely to attempt suicide than teenagers whose identity matches that of their gender at birth.

Stonewall, the LGBT rights charity, published research last year which found that 36 per cent of trans students have faced negative comments because of their gender identity, while 39 per cent would not feel confident reporting any homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying to staff.

After analysing data of 120,000 youths nationwide from age 11 to 19, the University of Arizone study found that roughly half of transgender teens who identify as male but were assigned a female gender at birth have attempted suicide at least once. A further 42 percent of adolescents who don’t identify exclusively as male or female have at least one prior suicide attempt.

A further 14 per cent have considered dropping out or have dropped out of a higher education course because of experiencing harassment or discrimination from students and staff in the last year.

Paul Twocock, executive director of campaigns and strategy at Stonewall, said: “It’s great that more universities are stepping up to support for their trans students” but added that The Telegraph findings “show there’s more to do to help trans students”.

“University should be an exciting time where all students can learn, grow and enjoy their independence, but this isn’t the case for some LGBT people. To change this, we need to see more visible support and leadership from universities across Britain.”

However Chris McGovern, chairman for real education and a former government advisor, said that historically females outperform males and that statistics measuring performance by gender will be rendered “meaningless if, in fact, young people can choose their gender”.

“It becomes impossible to monitor differences between male and female if one does not accept male and female is a permanent state of being, or that there’s a range of genders in between,” he said adding: “The stats officer will have a problem”.

Earlier this year two university researchers from the University of Strathclyde offered advice for educational staff to be respectful of trans students. This included adding pronouns to email signatures, for example (she/her; he/him; they/their) and being respectful of how people wish to be addressed.

Last month the education secretary Damian Hinds  said that all primary school pupils will be taught about trans and gay relationships before graduating to secondary school.

A spokeswoman for the Russell Group did not respond to a request for comment.