A generation of boys is turning its back on university in the wake of the rise in tuition fees to up to £9,000 a year, according to figures released today.
Final figures for this year’s university intake, published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), show a 54,000 slump - 13 per cent down on the previous year (higher than earlier predictions)..
A breakdown showed that the gender gap in entrants had reached an all-time high with the fall in the entry rate being four times higher for men than women.
Overall, it has meant that 18-year-old women straight out of school are 34 per cent more likely to apply to go on to higher education than men. The difference in application rates is 10.1 percentage points with 40.1 per cent of women applying compared to just 30 per cent of men.
Today’s report shows for the first time that women are more likely to enter higher education than men are to apply.
Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of UCAS, described the figures as “a striking and worrying finding”, adding: “Young women are now a third more likely to enter higher education than men, a difference that has increased this cycle.”
Dr Mark Corver, head of analysis and research at UCAS, cited the fact that girls had higher qualifications than boys on leaving school as a contributory factor.
However, other sources suggested that - in the wake of the tuition fees rise - some boys could be more likely to seek apprenticeships or immediate employment to avoid plunging into debt.
Introducing the report, Dr Corver said: “Demand for higher education has been weak in 2012. We’ve seen this weakness in applications and we’ve seen this weakness in acceptances - that’s also down.”
The figures show the biggest slump in entries was amongst universities in England - which charge higher fees - where the numbers fell by 51,200 (13per cent). Welsh universities also saw a fall by 3,000 (12 per cent).
Earlier predictions of the fall in numbers - based on this September’s intake - suggested a lower drop. However, the new figures, which cover entries throughout the year, show the fall-out has “more or less doubled”, said Dr Corver.
The figures also surprisingly show a slight drop in the percentage of students with three straight A-grades at A-level gaining access to university - in spite of government attempts to encourage universities to offer more places to those with A.A, B passes and above.
Higher education experts predicted this was due to students who were refused their first choice university - i.e Oxford or Cambridge - ruling out apply to what they considered a less prestigious university in view of the fees. They may, instead, try again next year, it was thought.
One bright spot of the horizon was a rise in both applications and entrants from students from disadvantaged groups. Within England, the entry rate to more selective universities from 18-year-olds from, disadvantaged communities went up by 10 to 12 per cent. That meant they were between 40 and 60 per cent more likely to enter university than in 2004.
Professor Les Ebden, director of the Office for Fair Access - the university access watchdog, said: “Although university applications fell this year, I am pleased to see the continuing rise in the proportion of disadvantaged 18-year-olds entering higher education.
“But there are still wide gaps in participation. Overall, entry rates for 18-year-olds from advantaged areas remain three to four times higher than for those in disadvantaged areas.”
Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s higher education spokeswoman, described the drop in overall numbers as “a massive blow for people and communities across the UK”.
She said the rise in fees “has put a brake on aspiration and has led people considering applying to university to decide against doing so at precisely the time that higher level skills have never been more important to secure their future”.
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the university think-tank million+. added: “There is no getting away from the stark truth that numbers of full-time students are down and the evidence collated so far for 2013 suggests the downward trend is continuing.”
Universities Minister David Willetts said last night: “We expect that the total number of full-time students in higher education this year will be bigger than in any year before 2010.”