Record decline in young women applying for university

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Record decline in young women applying for university

For the first time in a decade, universities have seen a decline in demand for undergraduates degree for young women. Compared to the previous year, September 2023 intake has seen 10,000 fewer young women applying, according to DataHE. This is the biggest fall in women’s university ambitions on record, marking the first decline in demand since 2012.

Nick Hillman, of the Higher Education Policy Institute, notes the decline is likely to reflect the drop in applications to nursing and teaching courses, which typically draw in more women. Compared to Jan 2022, nursing and education courses have seen a drop of 18.6% and 15.6% respectively. Nursing has seen a bigger hit this year due to a surge in popularity during the pandemic, as many were inspired to apply. While teaching may have declined due to the present labour market, historically education experiences a reduction in interest when other sectors have lots of vacancies.

Another reason for the fall in applicants may be the current debates these sectors are having with the government; with both sectors having had recent strikes. Since before the pandemic, nurses have been lobbying for better pay and teachers are striking this month for similar reasons. This is not the ideal advertisement for prospective students when they are picking their subject of choice.

Other sectors that have felt a decline in women applicants are veterinary sciences, business and management, languages and media studies, while those that have seen a small increase in female applicants are computing, law, and geography (DataHE).

This change in interest could be a sign of a larger shift since institutions have also experienced a reduction in male applicants, similarly, it is the first drop in demand since 2012. This might be a sign of a wider fall in public interest in universities as a whole. With the rapid changes in the labour market brought about by the pandemic and the rising cost of living, it is not a surprise that undergraduates are re-evaluating their priorities.

Particularly, the fields of law and computing are known for having high salary expectations while nursing and teaching are not as they are viewed as careers that people enter due to their passion for the sector. Could undergrads be re-evaluating their choice of subjects based on career trajectory, focusing more on pay and less on their passion and interests?