Please Mind the Gender Gap

Posted by Kristina Murkett in

Here are 5 intriguing facts about university applications last year:

1. The number of UK university entrants passed 500,000 for the first time (up by nearly 17,000).
2. Among 18 year olds, 34% of women were allocated university places, compared with only 26% of men.
3. The gap was more than 50% in a quarter of parliamentary constituencies.
4. At least 20 institutions, including Liverpool Hope, Bath Spa, and Cumbria University, accepted twice as many female full-time undergraduates as males.
5. UCAS stated that the gender gap in entry rates is the equivalent of 32,000 'missing' male students.

So why are women a third more likely to enter higher education than men? Despite the mass of evidence that this is the case, there are strikingly few explanations of why this is so. Perhaps this is because girls simply outperform boys at school level (last year 25% of GCSEs sat by girls grade A* or A, compared with less than 18% amongst boys). Girls are also more likely than boys to stay on at sixth form, and 5% more girls achieve As at A-Level.

Leading on from this, boys may then be more attracted to apprenticeships, jobs and vocational qualifications, rather than incurring debt from the £9,000 a year fees regime. However there may also be other factors involved, such as regional differences and subject choices. For example, boys in London and Northern Ireland are most likely to enter university, whereas those in Wales and the South West of England have the lowest entry rates - in Bristol South only 11% of 18 year old males go to university.

Furthermore, Imperial College London - a science, engineering, medicine and business institution - is one of two universities where men count for two thirds of the undergraduate intake. Universities specializing in art and design courses continue to be dominated by females, as do teacher and nurse training courses. Claire Callender, Professor of Higher Education Studies at the Institute of Education explained that university success is still 'largely associated with what happens at school. One of the key predictors of what someone will study is what they did at A-Level, which is why there have been so many attempts to encourage girls to study STEM subjects.'

Running alongside this gaping gender gap is the closing one between private and state school education, with record numbers of disadvantaged students being offered places in higher education, rising by 11% compared with last year. If these trends continue, then how soon will we reach a point where the biggest determinant of your higher education is not your school, but your sex?

Image courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons