Sex stereotypes persist in the choice of courses by male and female students, the first comprehensive survey of the United Kingdom's expanded university sector reveals.
Just 15 per cent of engineering and technology full-time students are female, while women form three-quarters of those studying education and subjects allied to medicine, mostly nursing. The findings were described as "a little depressing" by Brian Ramsden, chief executive of the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
They are contained in HESA's first data report, with figures from 182 higher education institutions. The report also shows there are now 1.5 million students in British higher education, with ethnic minorities "well represented" among them.
"What is new about these statistics is that they comprehensively cover all UK universities and higher education colleges. I would like to think it shows up diversity," said Mr Ramsden.
On the general balance of the sexes the report concludes: "Among full-time undergraduates the genders are almost equally balanced. Women form 55 per cent of part-time undergraduates but just 46 per cent of full-time postgraduates."
HESA was formed in 1993 to collect data from new and old universities as well as higher education colleges, taking over from the Universities Statistical Record and various Government offices. Nearly 658,000 students (43 per cent of the total) were in their first year when data was collected last December. The report also contains the first survey of disability among students, revealing that 3.8 per cent report a disability.
Other areas covered are the popularity of subjects, migration of students from their home area and the origin of foreign students in the UK.
A snapshot of the ethnicity of students showed 87.6 per cent are white, 3.9 per cent of African or Caribbean origin, 3.1 per cent Indian, 1.5 per cent Pakistani and 3.9 per cent from other ethnic groups such as Bangladeshi and Chinese. HESA compares these figures with ethnic representation at comparative age levels in the 1991 Census and concludes: "Non-white ethnic groups seem to be well represented irrespective of age." For example 2 per cent of the national 18 to 20-year-old age group is Indian, but they represent 4.5 per cent of undergraduates of that age. In contrast, 92.7 per cent of the age group but just 87.8 per cent of students are white.