Fewer state-educated boys want university places

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The number of boys wanting to go to university is falling, a report suggests today. Only 67 per cent of boys at state schools believe they are likely to follow a degree course, compared with 76 per cent of girls. The nine-point percentage gap is twice that of last year - even though the overall proportion of potential university students of both sexes has remained the same, at 71 per cent.

The report, by a leading educational charity, comes a week after this summer's A-level results showed girls outperforming boys in every subject except maths and modern languages. The survey of 2,400 pupils aged 11 to 16 was conducted by the Sutton Trust, which aims to widen participation in higher education and is run by Sir Peter Lampl, the millionaire philanthropist.

Boys are also far more cynical than girls, the poll reveals. Asked what would most help them to get on in life, many male students believed their family background and the secondary school they attended were the most important factors, along with "knowing the right people". Girls were more likely to say that doing their best in exams and being able to read and write well were essential for future success. Also, when asked why they were unlikely to attend a university, 34 per cent of boys said it was because they did not like learning. Among girls, however, the proportion was only 22 per cent.

The findings suggest that a government drive aimed at improving the achievement of boys at secondary school is not working. The Sutton Trust also said it was finding it difficult to attract boys from underprivileged backgrounds to its summer schools at leading universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Nottingham and St Andrews. Only 29 per cent of applicants for this year's courses were boys - 3 per cent fewer than in 2004.

"We are looking to raise the attainment and aspiration of boys, particularly those from non-privileged backgrounds, so more of them decide to go on to higher education and can therefore access the excellent opportunities beyond," Sir Peter said.

His trust is conducting a British trial of the SAT reasoning test, the standardised intelligence exam used by US universities to assess applicants. Sir Peter claims the SAT test is more "boy friendly" than A-levels because it relies less on coursework. Figures from the US show that boys are more likely than girls to do well in their SATs.

Bill Rammell, the Higher Education minister, said he was "pleased that overall figures show the vast majority of young people remain positive about higher education and say they are likely to participate". The Government was investing almost £1bn to help boys and under-achievers catch up at school, he added.