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Record highs entering HE but gender gap widens

Today UCAS released their End of Cycle Report for 2014 and this year, for the first time ever, over half a million students entered higher education. More students are entering higher education from disadvantaged backgrounds and closing the class gap but simultaneously, the gap between men and women entering higher education is getting wider.
This article is more than 8 years old

Emily Lupton graduated from the University of Lincoln in 2014 with a degree in Journalism. She worked for Wonkhe as Graduate Editor for a year before moving onto other journalistic pursuits.

UPDATED 21st January 2015

UCAS released their End of Cycle Report for 2014 in December and found that for the first time ever, over half a million students entered higher education. More students are entering higher education from disadvantaged backgrounds and closing the class gap but simultaneously, the gap between men and women entering higher education is getting wider. Further figures released on January 21st 2015 reveal that women outnumber men in nearly two thirds of subjects and more students holding BTECs are being placed.

Greg Clark, Universities, Science and Cities Minister said of the report, “For the first time ever over half a million students have entered higher education, with entry rates for students from disadvantaged backgrounds increasing by over 10 per cent to its highest ever levels across the UK.”

More applicants entering higher education with BTECs

18 year olds 20 per cent more likely to to enter higher education with a BTEC than last year – although the A Level remains the most popular qualification taken by students entering higher education.

Since 2008 the number of people from the UK holding a BTEC qualification placed into higher education through UCAS’ main application scheme has almost doubled to 85,000. The proportion of placed UK applicants holding a BTEC has increased each year from 13.5 per cent in 2008 and 23.8 per cent in 2014.

Now only 26 large providers accepted fewer than 10 per cent of their intake from BTEC holders in 2014/15.

Gender gap widens

In contrast the gender gap has continued to increase and young women are now a third more likely to enter higher education than young men. In 2014 57,800 more women than men were accepted into higher education. For 18 year old men entering higher education the entry rate increased by 0.8 percentage points to 25.8 per cent, for women this was 1.2 percentage points to 34.1 per cent. This equates to around 32,000 fewer 18 year old men entering higher education than if the entry rate was the same for both men and women.

This gap is broad, in over 98 per cent of constituencies entry rates are higher for women than men, but in the most disadvantaged areas the gap increases to 15 per cent entry rate for men aged 18 and 22 per cent for women. While the entry rates have fluctuated for 18 year olds as a whole over this period, the gap between genders has remained around the same, increasing a little year on year.

Figures released by UCAS in January 2015 highlight the relationship between gender and subject group. In 2014, there are more women than men on nearly two thirds of subject groups, and women outweigh men 4 to 1 in subjects like medicine and education, where there are 32,215 and 13,080 more women respectively. Male students outweigh female students on courses like computer science and engineering where 87 and 85 per cent (respectively) of students are male.

Subject groups which are made up of over 65 per cent women include subjects allied to medicine (81 per cent), veterinarian science, agriculture and related (72 per cent), linguistics, classics and related (74 per cent), european languages, literature and related (70 per cent), education (85 per cent) and combined arts (71 per cent).

UCAS End of Cycle Report Figure 19

More students than ever before

In 2014, 512,400 people secured places in UK universities and colleges, an increase of 16,800 (+3.4 per cent) on 2013. Within the UK, acceptances increased to 447,500 in 2014, up 3.2 per cent (13,800). Acceptances also increased across the EU by 7.6 per cent (1,900). Although outside the EU the acceptance rate fell by 1.4 per cent, continuing on a decline from 2006, an increase in applicants in 2014 by 5.7 per cent (74,600) meant that acceptances did actually increase to 38,500, up 2.8 per cent (1,100). The total number of applicants for 2014 (699,700) is almost equal to the numbers we saw in 2011 (700,200).

This large figure of half a million acceptances could be regarded as a ‘new normal’ as universities return to a balance where figures aren’t disrupted by policy changes. The acceptance rate has fallen relatively flat and while more students are applying for, receiving offers and entering higher education, figures suggest that universities are becoming a little more discerning with their acceptances and focusing slightly more on grades as their numbers reach a comfortable level and rise at a steady rate.

Within the UK there have been steady increases in acceptance numbers across all age groups. The highest proportion of (UK domiciled) acceptances continues to be from those aged 18 which stands at 224,600,an increase of 5,200 (+2.4 per cent) on last year. Acceptances for 19 year olds and those aged 20-24 have also increased by 1.6 per cent (1,400) and 4.1 per cent (3,200) respectively. But the largest increase in acceptances was actually from those aged 25 and over, with 52,000 acceptances in 2014 at an increase of 4,100 or 8.6 per cent. This follows an increase in 2013 after three consecutive years where numbers fell (2010-12).

For the first time, UCAS examined data by parliamentary constituency as well as region. Entry rates vary on both accounts. Within England 18 year old entry rates in 2014 range from 26.7 per cent in the South West to 34.8 per cent in the London region. Examining entry rates over the 650 constituencies gives a finer detail geography and wider range of entry rates. A small amount of constituencies have fewer than 15 per cent of 18 year olds entering higher education whereas in a select few constituencies 50 per cent of 18 year olds enter. In most parliamentary constituencies though, entry rates are at around 20 to 30 per cent.

wonkhe ucas end of cycle

The gap between entry rates for advantaged and disadvantaged applicants has fallen to a new low.

Where entry rates for 18 year olds living in advantaged areas have increased a little, entry rates for those from disadvantaged areas has increased by 11 per cent, thus the difference of entry rates between the groups has reduced. The gap still remains but now in England and Wales advantages 18 year olds are around two and a half times more likely to enter higher education than disadvantaged 18 year olds, this stood at around four times more likely in 2006.

In 2014, the highest numbers of students ever from the Asian ethnic group and the Black ethnic group were placed 45,000 and 30,000 respectively.

The largest number of applicants who declared a disability were also placed by UCAS, 36,000 in 2014, 3,700 more than last year.

More offers for applicants

Applicants are getting more and more offers; 1.8 million from providers to applicants in 2014, an increase of 5.9 per cent (101,400) on 2013. They are getting more choices too, with the number off applicants with 5 offers at a new high of 137,300 – an increase of 9 per cent (11,600). With more choices available, applicants are much more likely to set an insurance choice and 90 per cent do.

This year 372,200 applicants were placed at their firm choice; 73 pre cent of all acceptances and an increase of 2.5 per cent (8,900). The number of applicants places at their insurance choice also increased to 36,700 (+11.8 per cent or 3,900).

While most insurance places rarely come into play as the majority of applicants get into their first choice, this year the number of applicants who were not placed through their firm choice, and thus were considered by their insurance choice, increased to 32 per cent, the highest level since 2011. This shows universities becoming a little more discerning as they become more comfortable with their student numbers and beginning to recruit students based on grades rather than ‘cashing in’ on applicants and taking in as many as possible to keep numbers high.

University recruitment is beginning to calm and institutions are accepting entrants more carefully rather than scrabbling to pick up all the extra students they can. The 2014 UCAS cycle could be referred to as a ‘return to normal’ as things seem to be returning to a balance after the disruption caused in 2011, and the graphs begin to level out once more.

Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS’ Chief Executive said: “While the 2014 cycle marks a return to ‘normality’ after the turbulence which followed the raising of tuition fees and partial exemption from number controls in England from 2012, a market has been created in higher education.

“Many universities and colleges have had to work hard to recruit, making significantly more offers and being flexible in their entry requirements.  This means applicants can afford to be bolder in their choices.”

Find the UCAS End of Cycle report here and the UCAS End of Cycle data resources here.

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