A quick post following a good meeting yesterday organised by UCU, on widening access to higher education, in the august surrounding’s of the Dean’s Yard Westminster.  (My last post came from the even more distinguished crypt of St Paul’s – where will I find myself next?).

Two key issues struck me.  One was ‘trends in gaps’.    Helen Thornley of UCAS gave details of the latest figures on applications and entries to universities.    The gap between those from the most and least advantaged backgrounds is diminishing – though not very fast, and not o the ‘high tariff’ (i.e. elite) universities.  At the same time, the gap between female and male entries is growing.   If these two trends continue, the gender gap in favour of females will overtake the socio-economic gap in favour of better-off young people.  That’s quite a crossover to contemplate.

When I talked afterwards with Helen she said how difficult it was to get a proper debate going on the gender gap issue.  We both wondered why.

The second issue was about careers advice, or guidance.  Angela Nartley of UCU reported on some research they have been carrying out on young people’s perceptions of HE – whether it is for them, why they will or won’t choose to go, where they might go and so on.  The sheer lack of any advice was very striking.  Most of them never visited a university, and got information only from family or friends.  Most striking of all was that only 38% even accessed information on HE via the internet.

The report notes:  “Young women tend to have a more coherent picture of what they want to do after school.  The tend to source multiple suggestions on potential careers, rather than focussing on university courses.”

The two issues are linked.   Young men are much more likely to use only family or friends as their source of information.  So peer group plays a stronger part for them.   As Ann Hodgson pointed out, it may become progressively less cool for young men to continue their education, especially if they come from a poor background.  What are the alternatives for them?

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