The gap between working class boys and girls going to university widened in the first year of the new tuition fees regime, a new analysis of UCAS data by the Independent Commission on Fees shows today.

And while the fall in acceptances did not have any disproportionate impact on less privileged areas of England overall, young male acceptances from these areas declined over two years while young female acceptances increased.

Women are now a third more likely to enter higher education than men and the gender gap seems to have widened since 2010.

Among UK residents, 134,097 women aged 19 and under were accepted to English universities in 2012 compared with 110,630 young men. This represents a decline since 2010 of 2.6% for girls and 4.0% for boys, and a 5.9% decline for girls and a 7.5% decline for boys since 2011.

In the 40% of English neighbourhoods where university participation is lowest, there were 1700 fewer boys aged 19 and under who were accepted for places in 2012 than in 2011. These reductions will partly reflect population changes, but this represents a decline of 5.4% in the number of young men from these areas going to university this year. By contrast, the fall in the number of young women from these neighbourhoods going to university was smaller, at just 3.7%.

When compared with 2010, the number of young male acceptances fell by 1.4%, while young female acceptances increased by 0.9%. These figures reflect concerns expressed elsewhere about the educational under-performance of working-class boys, feeding a widening gap in participation between boys and girls.

In England, while the overall change in the gender gap in the two fifths of neighbourhoods where participation is highest was 1.6 percentage points between 2010 and 2012, the overall change in the gender gap in the two fifths of neighbourhoods where participation is lowest was greater, at 2.3 percentage points. Between 2009 and 2010, male and female acceptances rose.

Although the decline in overall male participation in the most advantaged neighbourhoods was even larger, 20,000 more boys go to university each year from the two top fifth neighbourhoods than from the two bottom fifth neighbourhoods.

Will Hutton, chair of the Independent Commission on Fees, said today:

“Today’s report shows that the first year of fees produced a worrying widening in the university gender gap. In working class areas, there has been a decline over two years in the number of boys accepted for university, while the number of girls accepted has risen.

“This is particularly worrying, because women are already a third more likely to go to university than men, and the danger is that the higher fees may be having a disproportionate impact on men, who are already under-represented at university.

“The Government, universities and schools should consider whether specific measures are necessary to address their concerns.”

Total acceptances to UK universities fell from 431,000 in 2011 to 407,391 in 2012 – a drop of 23,844 or by 5.5%, making UK acceptances the lowest since 2008. The numbers were also 4.1% down on 2010.

The new report also highlights a worrying widening in the participation gap at the UK’s 13 best universities, a group identified by the Sutton Trust on the basis of league table performance. The group includes Oxford and Cambridge.[1]

Acceptances to the top 13 rose in 2012, in contrast with the decline elsewhere, but admissions from England’s lowest participation neighbourhoods to these 13 universities fell by 0.1% while it rose among those from all other neighbourhood groups. Acceptances in the most advantaged neighbourhoods rose by 4.7%.

Students from the richest fifth of neighbourhoods are ten times more likely than those from the poorest fifth of neighbourhoods to go to one of the top 13 universities.

Will Hutton added: “While it is good that acceptances to the leading universities overall were up, it is worrying that the gap in acceptances to the best universities between those from the richest and poorest neighbourhoods, where those from advantaged areas are already ten times more likely to get to the best universities, has widened yet further.”

Today’s report also confirms earlier evidence that mature students (aged 20 and over) suffered the biggest drop in acceptances, with 7.6% fewer acceptances in 2012 than in 2010, twice the 3.3% decline for younger students as a whole.


  1. The Independent Commission on Fees was set up in January and is committed to monitoring the impact of increased university fees in England between 2012 and 2014.
  2. The five members of the panel are: Will Hutton (Chair), Principal of Hertford College, Oxford University, and Chair of the Big Innovation Centre; Tanith Dodge, HR director at Marks & Spencer; Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation; Stephen Machin, Professor of Economics at University College London and Research Director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics; and Libby Purves, writer, radio broadcaster and Times chief theatre critic.
  3. The Commission is producing a series of independent reports assessing the impact of the increase in fees on application and admissions trends in universities, considering in particular the effect on young people from low and middle income backgrounds. The secretariat and analytical support is provided by the Sutton Trust.
  4. The Commission is extremely grateful to the UCAS for their cooperation in helping with the Commission’s work.
  5. In January, UCAS application data for 2013 showed that, in England, 18 year old women are more likely to apply than men across all backgrounds but to a greater extent in disadvantaged areas (50 per cent more likely) than advantaged areas (20 per cent more likely). These figures are for the most disadvantaged and most advantaged fifth of neighbourhoods. See

Analysis of UCAS acceptances for 2012/2013 admissions

[1] The 13 universities are Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Imperial, LSE, Nottingham, Oxford, St Andrews, UCL, Warwick and York.

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