Almost half of teenagers from working-class families get into university after studying alternative qualifications to A-levels, according to a study.
It suggests that these students are more than twice as likely to study courses such as Btecs, compared with their peers from more middle-class backgrounds.
The Social Market Foundation (SMF) study examines official data on students in England who were accepted on to degree courses in 2016, and whether they had studied A levels or Btecs.
Btecs are the most common type of vocational qualification for sixth formers, the report says, and are becoming increasingly popular.
The number of school-age students taking at least one of these courses tripled between 2006 and 2014.
Routes to university
The SMF findings show that almost half (45 per cent) of students whose parents are in routine or manual professions studied Btecs only, or a mix of these courses and A levels, compared with more than one in five (22 per cent) of those whose mums and dads worked in higher managerial, administrative and professional roles.
The study also found that 47 per cent of youngsters living in the most disadvantaged areas of the country – the neighbourhoods that have the lowest numbers going to university – who were accepted on to degree courses, held at least one Btec, compared with 19 per cent of those from the areas with highest university participation.
"Across all measures of disadvantage, vocational qualifications are an important route, and even more so when we focus on those in low participation areas and from low socio-economic backgrounds," the report says.
It also concluded that almost half (48 per cent) of black students accepted to university hold at least one Btec.
Students were also much more likely to start degree courses holding a vocational qualification if they had lived in the North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber and the West Midlands.
SMF director James Kirkup said vocational qualifications are "the ladder that lets many people who don't come from privileged homes get into university".
He warned that vocational routes have traditionally been ignored in favour of traditional academic qualifications such as A levels.
"To make Britain's world-class university system truly fair and open to all, higher education leaders, ministers and the Office for Students must work together to remove the barriers that keep many poor and ethnic minority people out of higher education," Mr Kirkup said.