Tens of thousands of men 'missing' from higher education
The gulf between the numbers of young men and women going to university has reached a record level, with tens of thousands of men "missing" from higher education, official figures show.
Young female students are now over a third more likely to start a degree course than their male counterparts, while those from poorer backgrounds are more than 50% more likely to enter university.
New data published by Ucas also indicates that an English teenager's chances of winning a place at a top institution without scoring the best grades at A-level may be increasing, and that would-be students could afford to be more "ambitious" when selecting degree courses.
Overall, the figures show that the numbers of people going into higher education this year reached a new high, with universities making record numbers of offers.
A total of 532,300 students secured places at UK universities this autumn, up 3.1% - about 16,100 people - on last year, and 384,100 applicants got their first choice of course.
Among UK students alone, there has been a 2.8% rise in numbers, with 463,700 finding places through Ucas.
The hikes come amid major changes to the system, including a move to lift the cap on the number of students a university can admit. There are signs that this has led to more competition amongst institutions to attract candidates.
But while overall numbers rose, there were wide gaps between the sexes.
Women aged 18 are now 35% more likely to go to university than men, Ucas said, adding that the difference equates to 36,000 fewer young men starting a degree course than would be the case if the entry rates were the same.
Among those from disadvantaged backgrounds, young women were 52% more likely to go into higher education than their male counterparts.
While this gap is rising, the gulf between rich and poor students in general has narrowed, and the least advantaged young people in England are 65% more likely to go into higher education than they were in 2006.
Ucas chief Mary Curnock Cook said: "We have previously highlighted the unacceptably large and widening gap between entry rates for men and women and this year shows young men, and especially young white men, falling even further behind."
Universities and colleges made a record 1.9 million offers to students this year, and 93% of applicants who made five choices received at least one offer, the figures show. Around a third (32%) received the maximum five offers - the highest level recorded.
In general, applicants were 28% more likely to get five offers this year than they were in 2012, Ucas said, and 52% more likely than in 2011.
Ms Curnock Cook said that as competition to attract students grows, students could consider using some of their five options to apply for courses with higher grade requirements.
"The high number of students receiving a full set of five offers suggests that potential applicants for 2017 could afford to be even more ambitious in at least some of their applications," she said.
The figures also show that the number of unconditional offers - offers of places regardless of grades - to 18-year-olds has almost doubled.
In total, 23,400 unconditional offers were made, representing around 2.5% of all offers, and 11,300 more than last year.
The figures also suggest that top universities - those asking for the highest entry requirements - are taking slightly more students with lower A-level grades.
This year, 74.1% of students accepted at these universities had at least one A grade and two Bs at A-level - down 3.3 percentage points from last year and down from 85.4% in 2011.
"What we're seeing is a more or less fixed size of people coming through holding A-levels and then a group of higher tariff institutions which are increasing in size more rapidly than other institutions, said Mark Corver, Ucas director of analysis and research.
These universities may need to "take in a few people who they wouldn't have done previously", he suggested, adding that someone who has, for example, ABB grades, may be " a few percentage points more likely to get into a higher tariff institution" than last year.
Universities minister Jo Johnson said: "It's welcome news that record numbers of students secured places this year, including record numbers from disadvantaged backgrounds. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are now almost a third more likely to enter higher education than five years ago, but we have much more work to do.
"As a One Nation Government we want everyone with the talent and potential to be able to access higher education. That's why we have set out an ambitious programme to build on recent progress and achieve the Prime Minister's goal of doubling the proportion of people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university by 2020."
The figures also show that white pupils had the lowest university entry rate at 28% this year, while Chinese students had the highest at 58%.
Professor Les Ebdon, director of fair access to higher education, said: "This report shows that, in 2015, 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds entered higher education in greater rates than ever before. Universities and colleges are reaching out to people who might have previously thought higher education wasn't for them - helping to raise aspirations and attainment.
"The results of this work transform individual lives while also benefiting our economy and society as a whole."