An education at the UK's leading universities is being denied to state school pupils from vast swathes of the country, according to a report released last week.
A study by the Sutton Trust on the university chances of pupils has revealed higher education "black spots" in England, where just a fraction of state school students go on to study at the best universities.
It is the first time the figures detailing the higher education destinations of pupils from individual school sixth-forms and colleges have been published. They highlight the stark disparity between the chances of pupils living in the South East and the rest of the country, particularly the North West.
Students from areas such as Rochdale and Knowsley are 10 times less likely to attend one of the top 30 most selective universities than students from Hammersmith and Fulham, and 50 times less likely to study at Oxford or Cambridge.
Over the three-year period examined in the report, 2007 to 2009, not a single student from Knowsley went on to study at Oxford or Cambridge. In Rochdale, just one of a potential 2,000 candidates over the three years went on to Oxbridge.
The report also states that just 12 local authorities send more than one in every 50 pupils to Oxbridge. Apart from Trafford in Greater Manchester, all are in the South.
But among the most startling figures in the report was the finding that four independent schools and one college - namely Westminster, Eton, St Paul's, St Paul's Girls' School, and Hills Road Sixth Form College - secured more Oxbridge places than 2,000 schools combined.
According to the study, these five institutions sent 946 students to either Oxford or Cambridge, as opposed to 927 from 2,000 schools or colleges. Hills Road is the only state institution to appear in this group, but the trust pointed out that many of its students were children of Cambridge dons.
Furthermore, the top 100 schools in the country - 87 independents and 13 grammars - accounted for more than a tenth of places at the most selective universities, even though they represented just 3 per cent of all the sixth forms and sixth-form colleges in the country.
Lee Elliot Major, director of research and policy at the Sutton Trust, said this statistic revealed Oxbridge was "out of bounds" for vast swathes of students.
Oxford and Cambridge pointed to results as the main contributing factor to students winning places, citing the quality of the exams students sit as particularly important, rather than the quantity.
Geoff Parks, director of admissions at Cambridge University, said many of the top schools selected their pupils with an eye on the fact that they might be potential Oxbridge applicants.