Application processes can be difficult to navigate for trans and gender diverse people. Issues can include:

  • Forms that require applicants to state a binary gender, making some people feel they cannot identify as non-binary, and others feel concerned that they are 'lying' if they select a gender that is different to their legal sex. 48% of the TransEdu Scotland research survey respondents found that identification documents were a barrier to them and 43% identified application forms and processes as barriers to study or work in FE and HE.

  • Consider how easy it is to navigate your application process if you are non-binary, for example. Are you allowing people to identify as trans or gender diverse so that you can record that information and/or let them know of additional support?

  • Proving prior attainment or financial circumstances if an applicant has changed their name. 15% of survey participants pointed to qualifications and certificates as a barrier to successful study. Do you have a sensitive and effective way for someone to discuss this during their application?

  • Concern about open day, interview or audition/assessment processes, particularly in relation to gender presentation, pronouns and the reactions of others. Is there information available to applicants on what to expect and could someone with concerns about their gender identity discuss this or receive support prior to their attendance?

Our research found that many people, particularly younger participants, were excited at the prospect of beginning a college or university course. They considered it an opportunity to transition, to live within their preferred gender or come out as non-binary for example. For some, it was the chance to leave behind previous names, presentations and experiences.

Enthusiasm was tempered with very real concerns about being outed to peers and staff members and of misgendering. The opportunity to discuss and disclose issues with a named contact is important to establish the needs of the individual and the specific processes that will be put in place.



The early stages of a new course are a particularly important time – expectations are clarified, friendships are formed and students, hopefully, begin to understand and enjoy their new teaching and learning environment. Retention literature suggests there are strong links between student engagement, their sense of belonging and retention (Thomas, 2012)


A well-planned and longitudinal induction period can do much to foster belonging and establish the conditions for successful study. This is likely to be particular true for trans and gender diverse students who will have additional concerns and needs to the more general cohort of new entrants.



Our research suggested that trans and gender diverse people were far more likely to leave their course before completion than the general student population:

  • 24% of university students had left their course. This compares with a drop-out rate of 7.9% for the general Scottish undergraduate population in 2014/15
  • Nearly half of those who had studied at college had left their course before completion.


Almost 50% were unaware of whether their new institution had a trans and gender diversity policy or additional support and 23% of participants felt entirely unable to discuss matters related to their trans status with their institution, with a further 33% saying they could only do so ‘a little’. 

Sebastian, a college student, described feeling unable to speak out:

 I could’ve told our teacher that I identify as a man and should be considered as well but I simply couldn’t. Never have they given me the option of stating my preferred pronouns and brought up the subject. When they state so clearly that they only see one man in the class, how am I supposed to change their minds? What if they turn me down and say that I’m confused? I don’t know what would happen because no teacher has ever talked about it, it rather feels like something that should be hidden. So, no I feel like I have no one at college I can talk about this to

Taylor felt unable to speak to their employer about their non-binary identity, despite feeling alienated:  I never spoke about the fact that I don’t necessarily identify with my biological sex, or if there was any other gender that I’d rather identify with, publicly, I never even broached this topic. One survey respondent wrote: It’s more so that I’m closeted and have no idea how to come out. It kind of affects a lot of everything as I’m not capable of being comfortable where I currently am.


Analysis of interviews suggests that students can often feel isolated, with 56% citing peer relationships as a barrier. Robin said that their biggest challenge was the social element of university life, I don’t quite fit with people on my course outside uni. This echoed comments left by a survey respondent, who stated: Peers don’t talk to me either because they are uncomfortable around trans people, or they are concerned about being offensive to the extent that they simply ignore me instead.



The key time to prevent some of the social isolation we have documented, to improve retention and create and publicise effective support policies and processes is during induction. We have a number of tips to help institutions in this respect:

  1. Use the induction period (both at an institution and module/class level) as an opportunity to celebrate and improve awareness and visibility of gender diversity and trans issues. This can involve flags, stalls, information leaflets explaining why it is important to ask questions about gender identify and preferred pronouns.
  2. Involve Students’ Associations, clubs and societies in shared gender diversity celebration events.
  3. Alongside targeted campaigns to make trans and gender diverse students aware of relevant policies and support, raise general awareness by advertising provision for trans and gender diverse students at all mainstream information events.
  4. Include specific activities in early sessions to introduce the idea of gender diversity and preferred pronouns. These can be located within other sessions covering safeguarding and expectations of behaviour. The University of Southern California has some excellent resources around icebreakers and activities that can be reworked to suit UK institutional settings.