MALE students are continuing to snub female-dominated courses such as nursing and health care despite tough new gender quotas designed to balance up Scottish colleges.

The number of women enrolling in social work courses has risen to 97 per cent while their representation in health grew to 87 per cent in defiance of government targets to increase male allocations.

Only marginal progress has been made attracting women to engineering and transport – although men still account for 84 per cent and 92 per cent of students respectively, according to an Audit Scotland report.

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By 2030 colleges are expected to have no subjects with more than 75 per cent of students being from one gender.

Under the Scottish Funding Council's (SFC) gender action plan, published last year, colleges are expected to increase the minority gender share in the most unbalanced subjects by five percentage points by 2021

John Kemp, interim chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: “Balancing genders in subjects that have a strong, deep-seated bias to participation by either men or women is a difficult task.

"However, if we’re to make progress we have to find ways of challenging the status quo with parents, with young people, in nurseries, in schools, in colleges and in workplaces."

The Audit Scotland report said to hit SFC's gender quota goals will require "a number of years".

Already several institutions are running campaigns aimed at correcting the gender imbalance, including North East Scotland College's "Girls in Energy" programme in partnership with Shell which targets 14 to 16-year-olds.

City of Glasgow College offers an HNC in mechanical engineering which is only open only to women while Ayrshire College holds a series of "Men in Care" events to encourage more men to consider a career in the health and social care sector.

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said: "The challenge is to effect changes that will result in a real shift in the balance of people with the appropriate skills being employed at the appropriate level in Scotland’s key sectors.

"It is essential that we build on existing good practice and work with others to achieve gender balance as part of this commitment.

"While the overall gender balance of students in colleges remains broadly even, we recognise that there is more work to be done to close the gender gap in some subjects."

Shuwanna Aaron, woman's officer for student body NUS Scotland, said: "It was positive to see progress being made in the number of women getting into courses previously dominated by men.

But she added: "We cannot ignore the appalling gender inequalities that continue to exist across our education system and wider industries.

"The fact that we’re seeing a decline in the number of men accessing courses dominated by women is a manifestation of the same harmful perceptions of gender norms."

The targets stem from a Scottish Government drive to improve gender balance in particular subject areas which was launched in 2014 by former Education Secretary Michael Russell.

Five out of 18 subject areas are currently missing the requirement to have at least 25 per cent of students either male or female.

More than 96 per cent of those enrolled in nautical studies are male while the same applies for 93 per cent of construction students and 92 per cent of engineering places.

At the other end of the spectrum 95 per cent of hairdressing and beauty students are female. More than 77 per cent of those studying care-related subjects are also female.

Overall, there is a growing gender balance in further education with 49 per cent of students now male after a sharp decline in the number of female part-time students.