School leavers from poor backgrounds are falling further behind their classmates on access to Russell Group universities, government statistics show.
Data published by the Department for Education reveal that only 5 per cent of English teenagers who took A-levels or equivalent qualifications in 2012-13 and were eligible for free school meals were admitted to Russell Group universities the following year, compared to 12 per cent of all other students.
The gap has widened in recent years since, of the 2010-11 cohort, 3 per cent of students who were eligible for free school meals gained a place at one of the 24 research-intensive institutions, compared to 9 per cent of students who were not.
Pupils from families in receipt of benefits such as income support and Jobseeker’s Allowance, or who have a low household income, are eligible for free school meals.
They are disadvantaged across the university sector, with 44 per cent of these students gaining access to UK higher education institutions in 2013-14, compared to 49 per cent of other students.
The data, published on 20 October, also reveal that white students are the least likely, proportionally, to enrol in higher education.
Forty-five per cent of white students who took A levels or equivalent qualifications in 2012-13 entered higher education the following year, compared to 64 per cent of students described as being from an Asian background and 61 per cent of black school leavers.
However, it was black students who were least likely to study at a Russell Group university, with only 7 per cent of them being admitted. The figures were 11 per cent for white students, and 13 per cent for students of Asian heritage.
Overall, the percentage of 2012-13 school leavers in “sustained destinations” – taking part in education or employment for at least two terms – the year after A levels was 73 per cent, up from 71 per cent the previous year. The proportion of students who were in higher education was unchanged, at 48 per cent.
Forty-nine per cent of female school leavers entered higher education, compared to 47 per cent of men. Eleven per cent of school leavers of both genders were admitted to Russell Group universities.