Boys are more likely to shun university as a result of the rise in tuition fees, according to new research.
In particular, the gender gap between working class boys and girls going to university is growing, the study, by the Independent Commission on Fees, shows.
Whilst overall acceptance rates among applicants from poorer homes have remained steady, the figures show 1,700 fewer boys from the 40 per cent of neighbourhoods with the lowest higher-education participation rates were accepted into university last year.
Will Hutton, chairman of the Commission, said the study showed the first year of higher fees had produced a worrying expansion of the university gender gap.
Overall, 112,300 young males (aged 17-19) got a place at university last year, a 1.4 per cent fall on 2010, compared with 135,100 young females (a 0.9 per cent rise).
The findings follow a call by Universities minister David Willetts, in an interview with The Independent, for white working-class boys to be classified as a target for universities in the same way as ethnic-minority students.
The report, though, shows that the slump in applications from boys runs through all social strata - with 6.2 per cent fewer boys from the most advantaged areas applying than girls. Professor Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment Studies at Buckingham University, said one reason could be growing interest amongst boys in seeking apprenticeships "as a direct route into employment".
"You are getting experience which could lead to a degree-type qualification," he added.
However, 14 universities have decided to set targets for the recruitment of males – mostly to primary-teacher training courses where women form the vast majority of students.
In recent evidence to MPs, Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of UCAS – the university admissions service – said the gender gap in applications "appears to be getting worse".
"I am very worried about the gap between males and females," she added. "We are beginning to look at men being the disadvantaged group and women looking more like the advantaged group."