Higher education: UCAS shows more push behind the PP

What gives the Paula Principle its current salience is the difference levels of achievement between women and men in education of all kinds.   I’ve just been looking at the latest UCAS report on applications and entry to higher education.  It confirms the seemingly inexorable growth in the gap between female and male educational paths.

First, the overall picture:

– For 18 year olds in 2014 the entry rate increased (3.2 per cent proportionally for men, 3.7 per cent for women) to the highest recorded levels for both men (25.8 per cent) and women (34.1 per cent). As with application rates, 18 year old women were around a third (32 per cent) more likely to enter higher education than 18 year old men.

– The absolute difference in entry rates between men and women widened by half a percentage point in 2014 to 8.2 percentage points – the largest difference recorded. This difference in 18 year old entry rates between men and women equates to 32,000 fewer 18 year old men entering higher education this year than would be the case if men had the same entry rate as women.

–  By age 19, 44 per cent of women have entered, over 9 percentage points higher than men.

Now for some interesting further wrinkles.   First, the report distinguishes between entry into so-called high-tariff and low-tariff universities.  High-tariff universities demand higher A level (or equivalent) results;  we can reasonably think of them as the more elite institutions, though I would certainly not make any link between that and the quality of their teaching.  The relevance for the PP is that these universities tend to lead to better careers, more likely to place their graduates on fast tracks.   Back in 2006, women were already ahead of men in entry into this type, but by a considerably narrower margin than their overall lead into HE generally.   Now, that  difference is disappearing, though it has not quite vanished.  In 2006, women were 18 per cent more likely to enter higher tariff providers than men; in 2014 they were 26 per cent more likely to enter than men.

Secondly, the overall pattern of more women going to university is universal across the country.  (In only 2 constituencies do more men enter higher education.)  But when it comes to disadvantaged areas, the relative gap is even greater than elsewhere .  In 2014, 18 year old women living in these  areas were around 50 per cent more likely to enter than men.

In other words, the gender entry gap is smaller in elite institutions than in others – but it’s heading in the same direction, so we can assume that in a few years women will be as far ahead in the ‘top’ universities as they are in the sector generally;  and the gap  biggest of all for young people trying to make their way from parts of the country where higher education is not part of the norm.

Information from France confirms that the Paula Principle is at work there too.  Looking at graduates from higher education rather than entrants, the Institut National d’Etudes Demographiques shows that in  the 2011 cohort 31% of women left with a qualification equivalent to 3 years HE, compared with 24% of men.  But the study also shows that for all women the gender pay gap persists:  7 years after leaving the education system, women get between 8 and 18% less than their male counterparts.  This is a bigger gap than in the UK, where for this age group, at least for graduates, the pay gap is small.    In France there is a strong division between permanent and temporary jobs:  47% of women in this cohort have permanent jobs, compared with 60% of men.  So young women are much less likely to get on a career track.  And hardly any men work part-time – just 1%, compared with 12% of women.


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