The number of 18 year olds accepted at university rose by 1.5 per cent to 238,900, the highest number recorded to date, despite a fall in the population of 18 year olds. Young people’s chances of entering higher education have increased by around 4 per cent across the UK, reaching a record of 32.5 per cent in England.
Overall there were 465,500 people from the UK placed in higher education through UCAS in 2016, an increase of 0.4 per cent.
The report examines how the entry rate to higher education varies between people from different groups. This is done through the use of a specially developed multiple equality measure that combines different background characteristics, such as where young people live and what sex and ethnic group they are, into a single measure. The resulting statistics offer a more complete picture of differences in entry to university, than in previous years.
Of the fifth of the young English population from backgrounds with the lowest entry rate to higher education, 13.6 per cent entered university in 2016, a rise from 13.5 per cent in 2015 (an increase of 0.1 percentage point). The young people in this group typically have lower family incomes, live in areas where fewer people go to university, attend state schools, and are more likely to be men or in the White ethnic group.
In comparison, of the fifth of young people from backgrounds with the highest entry rate, 52.1 per cent went to university in 2016, an increase of 1.2 percentage points. Young people in this group are more likely to come from higher income families, live in advantaged areas, attend independent schools, or be women or in the Asian or Chinese ethnic groups.
Those from backgrounds with the highest entry rates were 3.8 times more likely to enter university in 2016 than their peers with the lowest entry rates. The difference in entry rates between these two groups increased in 2016, compared to a long term trend of reductions. Nevertheless, young people from backgrounds with the lowest entry rates are more likely than ever to enter higher education, and 74% more likely than a decade ago.
The number of EU students accepted at UK universities rose by 7 per cent to 31,400, similar to growth rates in recent years. The number of accepted students from outside the EU fell by 2.3 per cent to 38,300, the first fall since 2011.
The total number of students entering higher education in 2016 reached 535,200; an increase of 0.5 per cent (2,900) on 2015 and the highest number recorded. The total number of applicants remained unchanged at 718,400.
UCAS' Chief Executive, Mary Curnock Cook, said: "When she entered Downing Street in July, the Prime Minister pointed out that white working-class boys are the least likely to go to university. Our report underlines this point, showing that nearly three quarters of the group least likely to enter university are men, most are from lower income families, and nine out of ten are in the White ethnic group.
"Although the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education has reached record levels again this year, there are early signals that the good progress made in recent years may be slowing down.
"The best way to get on track to better progress is to focus efforts on improving GCSE outcomes for all children which we know is the primary driver of increased entry rates to higher education."
The full End of Cycle report 2016 and underlying data files can be downloaded from the Undergraduate Analysis Reports section of the UCAS website.
The report is supplemented by interactive data explorers on the UCAS website, covering trends for individual and combined background groups, and the pattern of entry rates by parliamentary constituency.