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Gender gap in university admissions rises to record level

Latest data from Ucas also reveals record acceptance levels for black and Asian candidates, and for those declaring a disability

Women accepted to study at university outnumbered men by record levels last year, with female applicants dominating entrance to medicine, law and biology undergraduate degrees.

The 2014 admissions data from Ucas, the UK’s universities clearing house, also revealed record numbers of acceptances for disabled people and Asian and black ethnic groups, with a falling proportion for students from independent schools.

While women have outnumbered men in admissions for years, the 2014 figures show the gap has widened to nearly 58,000, with women making up more than half of students in two-thirds of subject areas. Men remain over-represented in most stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, most notably in engineering where there are 20,000 more men than women, and computing science, where there are 17,000 more.

Women are particularly strongly represented in subjects allied to medicine, with 32,000 more women accepted in 2014. In medicine and dentistry – among the most competitive undergraduate courses – there were 5,000 women and 3,800 men accepted last year.

The success of female applicants mirrors the trend in GCSE and A-level results, with girls outperforming boys across the grade scale. In 2013, girls received A* or A grades at GCSE in 25% of papers taken, compared with nearly 18% of boys’ papers.

Ucas said a record 36,000 UK applicants who declared a disability were accepted by universities – an increase of 3,700 on the previous year. The 45,000 UK students from Asian ethnic groups and 30,000 from black ethnic groups were the highest numbers ever placed through Ucas.

The growth in students from state schools has lowered the proportion of UK entrants from the independent sector. In 2007, privately educated students made up 11% of the 256,000 acceptances but last year the proportion was 9% of 307,000.

The Ucas data also showed that many students are applying to university with qualifications other than A-levels. Last year the number accepted onto degree courses holding Btec qualifications – the equivalent to A-levels, usually in vocational subjects such as business studies – rose to 85,000, almost double the number that held Btecs in 2008.

The detailed breakdown of subjects being studied showed another fall in the number of students taking European languages and literature degrees, with the number accepting places falling below 4,000.

Non-European languages are not immune, with just 140 studying Chinese languages – the lowest number for five years.

John Worne, the British Council’s director of strategy, said: “It’s another day of disappointment for language lovers, as we continue to see a steady decline in UK

students choosing to study foreign languages at university level. One good piece of news is some students are opting to study a language alongside another degree subject – more should, it’s a particularly attractive combination for employers.”