According to the Independent Commission on Fees, women are now a third more likely to enter higher education than men, and this disparity increases in areas considered to be disadvantaged.  

The Commission studied UCAS data in order to ascertain the current impact of the university tuition fee increase of up to £9000 a year.  The research comes at a time when Universities Minister David Willetts has called for white, working-class teenage boys to be considered alongside other disadvantaged groups and ethnic minorities for access targets. 

In 2012 there was a decline of 5.4% in the numbers of young men going to university from these areas, in contrast to 3.7% for women. When compared to 2010, discounting any surge in 2011 to avoid the higher fees, the number of male acceptances fell by 1.4%, while female acceptances increased by 0.9%. Before the fee increase, both numbers had risen.

The study also revealed a widening in the participation gap at the UK’s 13 most selective universities.  Although acceptances rose in 2012, admissions from England’s lowest participation neighbourhoods fell. This means students from the richest fifth of areas are ten times more likely to attend such institutions than those in the poorest fifth.

Will Hutton, Principal of Hertford, is on the panel of the Commission. He told Cherwell, “The focus of last week’s report was that fees seems to have deterred more working class boys than girls from both applying and then accepting places at university. This is part of a larger pattern: for every 100 acceptances at English universities 55 are from girls and 45 from boys  – and the spilt is 57/43 for working class girls and boys. On current trends within five years that could have climbed to 60:40.

“There is some evidence that Oxford’s record on working class boys is better than most, although the university experiences the same wider gender effect.” 

David Messling, OUSU’s Vice-President for Access, said, “What’s clear from the Commission’s latest study is that the fee increase is having a dramatic and far-reaching effect on university applications, affecting the demographics of students, the gender balance, and the choice of institution. The government’s mangled message on student finance, and the knock-on effects of £9k fees continue to put students off applying to university – these are direct effects of the fee changes.”

He continued, “For Oxford, the challenge is more complex – the report shows that applications to the top universities went up, perhaps showing that the challenge is increasingly not just about getting future students from disadvantaged backgrounds thinking about Oxford, but about just encouraging students to consider university.”   

One second year PPEist commented, “This is an important and unforeseen insight with practical implications that clearly vindicates the work done by the commission. Discovering that working class boys are dissuaded by the prospect of massive debt from undertaking further education is a new and unexpected result which will definitely drastically change the governments policy choice, especially given the Conservative Party’s deep passionate historical commitment to improving the position of those worst off in society.”