Supporting men to progress into HE  

HESA data shows the progression rate by age 19 into Higher Education (HE) stands at 46.8%. Strikingly however men are 35% less likely to have enrolled by this age than women.  

Of course, there are subject areas where the proportion of women studying is lamentably low. In 2021 men still outnumbered women four to one in areas such as Computing and Engineering. However, across much of the rest of the sector if you bump into a ‘typical’ student in the corridor of any university or college you can be assured they are more likely to be female than male.  

Disadvantage depresses the figure further. Just 23.1% of males who received free school meals progress to HE, segment this by ethnicity and you get a 13.4% progression rate for white boys, the lowest of all major ethnic groups. 

It’s in this context that Manchester Metropolitan University hosted the Boys Impact Conference on 6-7 September. The event was well attended with over 100 delegates from both academic and professional backgrounds.  

Go Higher West Yorkshire (GHWY) was represented by Charlotte Keyworth (Project Officer), Tahera Mayat (Collaborative Outreach Officer) and Jonathan Holland (Co-Chair of Boys on Free Schools Meal Network). Me and Tahera also presented a session based on the work from our Boys on Free School Meals Network.  

The conference’s first keynote was by John Blake, Director for Fair Access at the Office for Students. He spoke passionately about the need to increase the relative rate of progression to HE of boys from disadvantaged backgrounds.  

He also restated some themes that have been central since he took up the role. Firstly, a restatement of the importance of attainment raising activities, particularly for younger boys. An appetite for managed risks and acceptance that if we are to see meaningful change some activities/projects will not work along the way. Finally, the centrality of a what works evidence base.  

Other speakers included a powerful and personal account from Dr Craig Johnston (University of the West of England) focusing on the prevalence and impact on young men of school exclusions. Dr Simon Brownhill (University of Bristol) outlined his research suggesting that simply having more males in early years setting may not help to increase the engagement and attainment of boys from disadvantaged backgrounds that is sometimes implied.   

The session from GHWY focused on the work undertaken by the Males on Free School Meals Action Network.  

This work focused on two areas: Firstly, that key to increasing males in ambassador pools was to encourage greater applications and that once in the applicant pool males were as likely to be appointed and start work as female students. Secondly that a majority of ambassador job descriptions from across the partnership were female coded, with wording that may appeal more strongly to female students.  

The session was well received and provided thought provoking discussions. It was particularly great to see practitioners writing on Teams sites suggesting they and colleagues review their own ambassador job descriptions. Something we recommend you do too!  

If you would like to discuss the work of our Network, please contact Tahera Mayat or Jonathan Holland   


Jonathan Holland, Head of UK Student Recruitment and Outreach, Leeds Beckett University