Oct 12, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

The UK’s Department for Education recently released its report on higher education participation over the past decade. The findings?  The number of students entering university is higher than ever before. This good news, however, is also accompanied by some concerns -- pertaining to everything from crippling student debt to a troubling gender gap.  Here’s what you need to know.

Record Numbers

The DFE report looks at the Higher Education Initial Participation Rate (HEIPR), an “estimate of the likelihood of a young person participating in Higher Education by age 30, based on current participation rates.” For 2015-2016, the provisional HEIPR was just over 49 percent -- a 1.4 percent increase over prior year and the continuation of a steady HEIPR  increase since 2006 when the current methodology was introduced.

Debts Doubts Linger

While the HEIPR is heartening, experts caution about growing student debt. In fact, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies as reported by the BBC, students in England will graduate with average debt loads of £50,800 with the vast majority of them unlikely to pay it back -- particularly given that the job market for college graduates has not kept pace with the rise in college graduates, according to figures from the Warwick Institute for Employment Research

Furthermore, others worry that as degrees become more prevalent, they are also becoming devalued in the eyes of employers -- making work experience and/or postgraduate studies more important than ever.

A Widening Gender Gap

Another concern? A rising gender gap. At 27 percent, the initial participation rate was highest among 18-year-olds. However, a marked difference occurred at this age between girls and boys in this age group: While participation rates were 31.1 percent for girls, they were just 23.5 percent for boys.

Concludes Forbes of the disparity, “While much of the developing world wrestles with the problem of getting more girls into education, across the developed world the underperformance of boys is its most pressing issue.”

Read more about studying in the UK.





Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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