MORE than half of the students accepted by universities and colleges last year came from the top two social classes, representing less than 40 per cent of the population.
Just 10 per cent of students were from social classes four and five, which cover partially skilled and unskilled workers and form nearly a quarter of the population.
Details of applications and accepted applicants in 1997, published in the annual report of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, show that the higher education picture has changed little in the past three years.
By far the largest proportion of students who entered last year were from social class two, which includes teachers, middle managers and civil servants.
Applicants from higher classes were much more likely to get a place. More than 80 per cent of applications from students with professional backgrounds, where they or their parents were highly paid managers or the equivalent, were accepted, compared with 71 per cent of applicants from unskilled backgrounds. However, this may be a result of applicants from lower classes having fewer qualifications and less work experience.
Medical subjects were most popular with those from higher class families, whereas mathematical and information sciences were most sought after by those from lower class backgrounds.
UCAS publishes figures each year on the social background of university applicants, basing data on the occupation of students' parents if the applicant is under 21 and on their or their spouse's occupation if they are older.
In about 12 per cent of cases, the social background of applicants is unknown.