Progress has slowed towards closing the gap between the most and least advantaged students starting degrees at top universities, new data from Ucas has shown.
Data published by the university-admissions body reveals a record 19.7 per cent of young people classified as living in the most disadvantaged areas of the UK were accepted to start a course in September 2018.
This was up 0.4 percentage points, and 1.8 per cent proportionally, from 2017.
However, students from the most advantaged areas remain more tan 2.3 times more likely to start an undergraduate course than those from the most disadvantaged areas.
Ucas found that progress has slowed in decreasing the ratio of advantaged to disadvantaged students attending the highest-tariff universities.
Young people from the most advantaged areas are 5.74 times more likely to study at a higher-tariff university than those from the most disadvantaged areas.
While the gap at higher-tariff universities has reduced every year since 2009, this year’s reduction was only about a fifth of that seen in recent years.
Clare Marchant, Ucas’ chief executive, said: “While it’s encouraging to see record levels of students from the most disadvantaged areas going to university, the slow progress in closing the gap is disheartening.
“It’s clear that targeted outreach activities need to continue, highlighting to students from all backgrounds the experience, challenge and opportunities degree study can bring.”
The statistics also show that women across the UK continue to be more likely to enter higher education, with 38.3 per cent of 18-year-olds starting a course, compared with 28 per cent of young men.