Progress on widening access to UK universities has slowed to a crawl, according to Ucas data.
Figures released by the admissions service on 6 December showed that 19.7 per cent of 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas were accepted on to a course in September 2018, a record high.
However, 46.5 per cent of school-leavers from the most privileged neighbourhoods enrolled in higher education and, for both groups, the entry rate rose by 0.4 percentage points year-on-year.
This meant that the access “gap” was largely unchanged, with the most advantaged students being 2.36 times more likely to enter higher education than their poorer counterparts.
The most privileged students were 5.74 times more likely to enter the UK’s most selective universities than their less advantaged counterparts this year. While this gap has reduced every year since 2009, the Ucas analysis says that there is “indication that progress in closing this gap may be slowing, with the reduction seen this year only around a fifth of that seen in recent years”.
Meanwhile, the entry rate gap at “medium-tariff” providers increased for the first time since 2011, with the most advantaged applicants being 2.17 times more likely to enter this group than the least advantaged, compared with 2.15 last year.
Chris Millward, director of fair access and participation at the English regulator, the Office for Students, said that his ambition was to “achieve a significant reduction in these gaps during the next five years”.
“While I am pleased that more young people from the most disadvantaged areas have got in to university this year than ever before, it is disappointing that progress in reducing the gaps between the most and least advantaged has slowed, including at the most selective universities where they are widest,” Mr Millward said.
The Ucas data also show that the entry rate gap between women and men continues to widen: 38.3 per cent of UK 18-year-old women entered higher education in 2018, compared with only 28 per cent of men.
This means that women were 36.7 per cent more likely than men to enter higher education in 2018, compared with a gap of only 31.4 per cent in 2013.
An increasing gap in England drove the change in UK-wide figures, with the gap remaining constant in Wales, and shrinking in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Data published by Ucas previously show that 533,360 people were accepted onto undergraduate courses this year, down 525 on 2017. A record 33 per cent of the 18-year-old-population in the UK were accepted, an increase of 0.4 percentage points on last year.