Gender gap in higher education 'reaches record levels'

The gap between the number of men and women entering higher education has reached "record levels", with women more likely to enter 90% of the UK's largest universities, new data released by Ucas reveals.

Analysis of entry rates of 18-year-olds to 132 higher education institutions across the UK show women were over a third more likely to go to university than men in 2015, up from 27.5% in 2010.

Compared with this, men applying to Oxford were 3% more likely to attend the university in 2015 than female applicants, while the likelihood of men and women being placed at Cambridge was almost on a par.

Dr Mark Corver, Ucas' director of analysis and research said the gap between the number of male and female university entries had reached a "record level".

There was a 7.7% increase in male applicants placed between 2010 and 2015, compared to a rise of more than 12.5% in female applicants - showing a steadily widening gap.

Women were more likely than men to enter all kinds of universities but were particularly likely to do so in ones with lower entry requirements, the data shows.

Following Ucas' End of Cycle report in December 2015 which looked at national trends, the findings provide data on individual providers about any differences in representation and offer-making by sex, ethnic group, and area background.

The admissions body believes it is "the largest data resource published for universities" of its kind in the country.

The sets take into consideration applicants' predicted grades and competitiveness of the course applied for - two strong factors affecting how likely an applicant is to receive an offer - and indicate that the overall offers process universities use is fair.

Other key findings revealed that the difference in entry rates between white and other ethnic groups is widening, whereas the gap between those from the most disadvantaged and well-off areas of the UK is getting smaller.

The entry rates of the white ethnic group had the slowest year-on-year growth, with white students now under-represented at just under half of the 130-plus universities.

However the figures also show a noticeably lower entry rate for black people to universities which required higher grades.

Professor Les Ebdon, director of fair access to higher education, said the data was a "real step forward for widening access".

"Some universities will clearly be very challenged by this data, and I expect them to work hard to understand the discrepancies between applications and offers made for certain groups.

"I do not accept that an applicant's ethnicity or where they come from should be a barrier to attending university."

People can examine the findings through an interactive data explorer on the Ucas website.

Russell Group director general Wendy Piatt said the Ucas analysis did not take into account "a range of key information" such as A-level subject choice, grade requirements, personal statements and academic references.

She said: "Without the full context of individual applications, the data published by Ucas today tells only part of the story; a much fuller picture is required to understand why some students are not applying to or winning places at leading universities.

"We want talented students from all backgrounds to know that with the right grades in the right subjects a place at our universities is well within their reach."

In 2016-17 the 20 Russell Group universities in England will be investing £243 million from additional fee income on scholarships, fee waivers, bursaries and outreach activities aimed at the most disadvantaged students, she added.

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said in response to the data: "We have been calling on the higher education sector to publish much more information about their admissions process, and I welcome these first voluntary steps by those who have taken part.

"This is a good start, but by legislating for a new transparency duty we're now ensuring that there will be a clear requirement on all universities to release more information about their admissions process and real incentives on all institutions to go further and faster to promote social mobility."