Almost 100,000 more women than men applied to university this year as the gap in applications between the sexes hit a record high, latest figures show.
Some 343,930 women submitted an application to study full-time at a UK university by the Ucas deadline of 15 January this year – 94,140 higher than the number of men who applied by this point, according to data published by the admissions body today.
When UK applicants are considered alone, the deficit in male applicants stood at about 81,000 – with young women in England now 36 per cent more likely to apply to university than their male counterparts. When those from poorer backgrounds are considered, women are 58 per cent more likely to apply than men.
Overall, the total number of people applying to study full-time at undergraduate level rose by 0.2 per cent, compared with the same point last year, standing at 593,720 applicants.
But the number of UK applicants was down by 0.3 per cent to 495,940, while the number of English applicants fell by 1 per cent.
That small overall dip should be viewed in light of a 2.2 per cent decline in the number of 18-year-olds in the UK, said Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of Ucas.
“Our report shows further growth in demand for higher education, but the declining 18-year-old population and a decrease in older applicants means the actual number of UK applicants available for universities to recruit remains flat.”
Nonetheless, the number of 18-year-old applicants increased by 1 per cent compared with last year.
Applicant numbers from Scotland and Wales rose by 1 per cent, while the increase was 2 per cent from Northern Ireland.
The number of applicants from the European Union, excluding the UK, climbed by 6 per cent compared with the previous cycle, up to 45,220.
The Ucas figures – regarded as the first reliable indicator of demand for UK higher education this cycle – showed that application rates for 18-year-olds are at record levels, rising in England, Scotland and Wales.
Young people from the least advantaged areas of the UK are more likely to apply to higher education than ever before, rising by 5 per cent in England, 2 per cent in Scotland and 8 per cent in Wales.
Jo Johnson, the universities and science minister, said: “Despite the scaremongering, this data shows that young people are applying to university at a record rate, with applications from the most disadvantaged students at a record high. These figures show that our ongoing reforms are working and more people now have the opportunity to get to university.
“But there is still more to do to boost social mobility, which is why we have announced plans for a new transparency duty on universities to shine a spotlight on their admissions process.”
Les Ebdon, director of the Office for Fair Access, welcomed the increase in the number of poorer students applying to university, saying that it was part of a “sustained trend over the last decade”.
“Compared to 2006, the application rate for 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds has increased by 80 per cent,” Professor Ebdon said.
But universities needed to “step up their outreach work” if they were to reach the goals set by David Cameron, which would see double the rate of people from disadvantaged backgrounds reaching higher education in 2020 compared with 2009, he added.