The number of women over 25 who applied to undergraduate university courses in England fell by almost a fifth this year (-18.3%), according UCAS¹ .
The application service’s June figures revealed a drop of 7,870 applications, leading to one of the lowest numbers of women aged over 25 applying to university since 2012.
So why the notable drop? And what does it tell us? There are several possibilities: course fees, falling confidence in degrees or changing socio-economic circumstances, for example. Many may simply feel no need to invest in academia when other training options are available.
In contrast to the UCAS figures, however, research undertaken by the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFC) for England last year said, “Mature graduates are on average more satisfied with their choices than young graduates² ”.
So, we might have expected universities to attract more mature students this year, not less.
During the Brexit campaign, the former Education Secretary Michael Gove infamously said, “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts”. But in context, he wasn’t saying, “Don’t go to university”. And while Brexit may well be a factor, it’s lazy to see it as the root cause.
Speaking with Maximise, UCAS confirmed the June figures but noted that, as of 31 August, “the reduction between last year and this year is currently smaller for acceptances than applicants; there are 9% fewer acceptances over the age of 25 from England.”
That figure accounts for both men and women as gender-specific statistics are not currently available from UCAS.
Never the less, -9% is still a significant drop. And, crucially, the new figure is based on acceptances, not applications, so tells us little about the falling appetite of women over 25 to enter university.
A UCAS spokesperson commented, “The labour market at present is fairly buoyant and probably accounts for the reduction in the number of mature applicants to higher education. For those Page 13 who want to study at a higher level and are able to take up the opportunity, however, university remains a great choice, whatever your age.”
Written by Richard Cox of Ridgeway Editorial