BOYS have closed the gender gap on college entry, with as many males as females now going on to third level.
However, girls are more likely to aim for a higher qualification from the start, dominating entry to honours degree courses.
In contrast, more boys enrol in programmes leading to an ordinary degree or a higher certificate, although these also act as stepping stones to higher qualifications.
The remarkable educational journey made by boys in the past five years is revealed in figures from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) for the 2011/12 college year.
The closing of the gap is not down to fewer girls going to college, but a surge in third-level enrolments since the economic crash being driven by boys.
A dramatic rise in male participation in third level is attributed to more boys staying on to do the Leaving Certificate, a lack of job opportunities in areas such as construction and a lack of apprenticeships.
The HEA figures show a 50/50 male-female student breakdown across all 39 State-funded colleges in 2011/12, compared with 54pc/46pc, in favour of girls, in 2006/07.
This is mainly due to a drop in the proportion of females in the universities and teacher training colleges from 59pc in 2006 to 56pc last year – and down from 61pc 10 years previously.
The rising popularity of primary teacher training among males is particularly striking, now accounting for 32pc of students in the education colleges, compared with 23pc five years ago.
Although their overall share is down, females continue to occupy more places in the universities, accounting for 53pc of undergraduates and honours degree students, compared with 59pc five years ago. Boys outnumber girls in places in the institutes of technology, and also dominate in the ordinary degree/higher certificate (Level 7/6) courses offered by the institutes.
The proportion of females in the institutes of technology actually increased in the early 2000s, reaching 47pc in 2001/02 and again in 2006/07, but this has declined to 43pc in 2011/12.
The decline in apprenticeships since the collapse in the construction industry is thought to be a factor in the increase in males now entering the institutes of technology.
While boys make up 57pc of undergraduate students in the institutes of technology, they are even more likely than girls to be found in an ordinary degree course, accounting for 67pc of students at that level.
HEA chief executive Tom Boland said there had been a welcome increase in the number of males completing their Leaving Certificate and then going on to third level.
"These students are not displacing females but rather taking up the significant number of additional places that have been created in higher education institutions in recent years," he said.