The gender gap in university applications is widening – and poor white men are least likely to study for a degree, study finds
Girls born this year will be 75 per cent more likely to study for a degree than their male classmates if action is not taken to address a growing university gender gap, according to a report.
Around five-sixths of universities and colleges have more female than male students, a study published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) think tank reveals.
But apart from initial teacher training courses, only two institutions have set targets for 2016/17 on recruiting more men.
The report argues that failing to address the issue now is simply storing up problems for the future.
Dealing with the under-achievement of young men at university does not interfere with tackling other inequalities in the system – such as the gap between rich and poor, it says.
In a foreword to the report, UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook says: “On current trends, the gap between rich and poor will be eclipsed by the gap between males and females within a decade.”
According to UCAS in 2015 the entry rate for 18 year old women in 2015 was 9.2 percentage points higher than for men, making them 35 per cent (proportionally) more likely to enter than men. These differences were the highest recorded.
In 2006, there was a difference of 5.9 percentage points between men and women, making women 27 per cent more likely to enter than men.
Young white men from disadvantaged households perform worst. Only 8.9 per cent of 18-year old white men on free school meals enter higher education, statistics show.
“If this differential growth carries on unchecked, then girls born this year will be 75 per cent more likely to go to university than their male peers,” Ms Curnock Cook says.
The study suggests that one reason for the gulf may be that in the past, careers traditionally chosen by women, such as nursing and teaching, did not require full degrees.
When this changed, the number of women in higher education dramatically increased, it says.
HEPI argues that a number of policies would help to boost the numbers of men at university, including official sources of information targeted specifically at young men, and initiatives such as a Take Our Sons To University Day.
It also calls for more institutions to consider setting goals for male recruitment.
The study goes on to say that there is evidence that young women’s brains change earlier than males, and it is possible that some young men may benefit from not being rushed straight from school to university.
HEPI director and report co-author Nick Hillman said: “Nearly everyone seems to have a vague sense that our education system is letting young men down, but there are few detailed studies of the problem and almost no clear policy recommendations on what to do about it.
“Young men are much less likely to enter higher education, are more likely to drop out and are less likely to secure a top degree than women.
“That is a serious problem that we need to tackle.”