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Dec 14, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

The UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has released its latest data on who’s studying in higher education. One key takeaway? The number of students who identified as 'other' more than doubled between the 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 academic years. Here’s a closer look at the findings, along with what they mean for students and universities.

Letting Go of Labels

According to HESA, 1,025 students defined themselves as neither male nor female in 2016/2017 compared to 480, 375, 230, and 425 in 2015/2016, 2014/2015, 2013/2014, 2012/2013, respectively.

Comparatively, more than 1.3 million students identified themselves as female and just over one million students identified as male.

University LGBT+ student association officer Natasha Ion told The Times of the trend, “If somebody identifies as non-binary then they identify outside of the traditional binaries of gender that we have, so they identify as neither a man nor a woman. [...] It makes sense that the numbers are growing because it’s becoming more normalized and accepted.”

A Shift Toward Acceptance

PinkNews cited a rise in non-binary characters on television over the past year a contributing factor to the increase. “This movement in the direction of acceptance seems to be allowing students to either open their minds about their own gender identities or simply feel free to come out as non-binary -- or both,” suggested writer Josh Jackman.

Additionally, many suggest that universities are the perfect setting for students to explore. Philosopher Anthony Grayling told The Times, “People should be completely free to let others know how they like to be thought of and address. [...] It is a phenomenon very widespread among people of university age and this is an important time for them to think about who they are and what they are.”

One student who was born female and identifies as non-binary said of the “positive” and “freeing” experience of officially identifying as non-binary, “It’s really important to someone of my generation, being able to be yourself without being teased.”

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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