University entrance: gender, poverty and ethnicity

In the Paula Principle book I gave only a little space to ethnic variations in the gender gap -partly because I’m no expert on ethnicity and partly because I didn’t want to overload the book with figures. A recent report in The Times looks at statistics from the Department for Education on university entrance, paying particular attention to those students who were on free school meals – the standard indicator of poverty.

The ethnic variations are striking; the common factor is that girls do better than boys. At one end no fewer than 75% of Chinese girls getting free school meals went to university, 10 points ahead of Chinese boys. At the other end, 21% of white British girls on FSM gained entrance – but the proportion dropped to 14% for white British boys. For Bangladeshis the girl/boy figures were 70% and 53%, and for black Africans they were 69% and 53%.

Of course the most glaring feature of this mapping is the ethnic variation, and in particular the drastic lag between British white children and the rest. (Personally I was surprised by the high scores of the non-white groups apart from the Chinese.) But the persistence of the gender gap is a strong sub-theme. At the lower end, it means that poor white British girls are 50% more likely to get into university than their male contemporaries. We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out when they go out to get jobs – and then, of course, we’ll have to wait a lot longer to see how their careers develop over the decades…..

Meanwhile here is the DfE summary on the overall widening gender education gap:

Initial participation by sex

  • The HEIP measure for females aged 17 to 30 in 2019/20 was 60.8%, and 46.3% for males; this represents a difference in initial participation between males and females of 14.5 percentage points.
  • Compared to 2018/19, the HEIP measure in 2019/20 grew by 1.7 percentage points for females and 1.2 percentage points for males.
  • The female-male gap in participation has widened from 14.0 percentage points in 2018/19 to 14.5 percentage points in 2019/20.

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