The University of Oxford offered more undergraduate places to British women than men last year for the first time in its more than 1,000-year history.
Of the total figure, female sixth-formers also outnumbered their male peers, according to data published from Ucas, the university and college admissions body.
A total of 1,070 18-year-old female UK applicants to Oxford took places on undergraduate course in autumn 2017, compared with 1,025 men of the same age. Women won more offers and places after applying in record numbers.
Among applicants of all ages from the UK, women also received more offers to study as undergraduates than men despite fewer applying than their male counterparts. The number of British undergraduates of all ages taking up their places – according to the Ucas data published on Thursday – was split exactly with 1,275 men and women apiece.
The shift in undergraduate admissions is the latest of several taken by Oxford in recent years. The first of the university’s male colleges admitted women in 1974. Others followed suit in the rest of the 1970s and 1980s.
Ten of Oxford’s 38 colleges have women as their principals or heads, while the university appointed its first woman as vice-chancellor, Prof Louise Richardson in 2016. Rhodes House, which runs the university’s Rhodes scholarships, has this month announced its first woman as warden.
Oxford gave the figures a cautious welcome, saying it was unable to confirm the historical significance of Ucas’s data.
“While it’s too early to call this a trend based on one year’s numbers, it is a welcome sign of progress for female applicants to Oxford,” a spokesperson for Oxford said.
The Ucas figures only included UK-based applicants, but not EU or international students. In previous years non-UK admissions to Oxford have seen a majority of men gaining places – meaning that overall it is likely to have admitted more men than women undergraduates.
Oxford’s ancient rival, Cambridge, offered more places to male school leavers by a slim margin – 1,440 to 1,405 – after attracting record numbers of applications within the UK. Cambridge made more offers to British women aged over 18, although fewer took up the places.
After being heavily criticised over its track record on attracting and admitting black British students, Oxford’s admissions showed a slight improvement. Out of a record 435 applicants of all ages, 65 were offered places, compared with 55 the year before and 30 in 2012. Cambridge made offers to 75 black British applicants last year, compared with 55 in 2016 and 40 in 2012.
The equalities data from Ucas showed an improvement among the more selective universities in recruiting students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Clare Marchant, Ucas’s chief executive, said white men and people living in areas with less exposure to higher education were among the least likely to enter university.
“Our data shows overall that admissions are fair. Applicants from all backgrounds receive offers at rates which closely match the average for applicants to similar courses, with similar predicted grades,” Marchant said.
“However, these data also show that, while progress continues to be made in widening participation, particularly at universities with a higher entry tariff, large disparities remain between the groups entering higher education generally, and at individual universities and colleges.”
Prof Les Ebdon, the director of fair access to higher education for England, said the figures were a positive sign but warned that substantial gaps remained.
“The reasons behind these disparities are multiple and complex, and the challenge now for universities and colleges – as well as the new Office for Students– is to bring about a transformational step change in fair access. Incremental change is not enough for those students who are missing out,” Ebdon said.