Students from the richest neighbourhoods in England are 10 times more likely to get places at the top 13 universities then those from the poorest.
A data analysis of university acceptances for 2012/13 by the Independent Commission of Fees has also found that working class boys are “becoming increasingly less likely to go to university” when compared to working class girls.
Total acceptances to UK universities fell from 431,000 in 2011 to 407,391 in 2012 – a drop of 23,844 or 5.5 per cent. The 2012 figures are also 4.1 per cent down on 2010.
The study found that acceptances to the top 13 universities rose in 2012 compared to the decline elsewhere. However, while admissions to the top 13 universities from the fifth most advantaged neighbourhoods rose by 4.7 per cent, those from the fifth poorest neighbourhoods fell by 0.1 per cent.
The report states: “Those from the most advantaged backgrounds make up almost half of those accepting places from (the top 13) universities in both 2010 and 2012, and those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds make up around five per cent.”
The top 13 group is based on league table performance and consists of Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Imperial, London School of Economics, Nottingham, Oxford, St Andrews, University College London, Warwick and York.
Elsewhere, the Commission found that in the poorest 40 per cent of neighbourhoods, boys are much less likely to go to university than girls.
When compared with 2010, the number of young male acceptances fell by 1.4 per cent, while young female acceptances increased by 0.9 per cent.
The study found that, overall, women are now a third more likely to enter higher education than men, although the gap is largest in disadvantaged areas.
Among UK residents, 134,097 women aged 19 and under were accepted to English universities in 2012 compared with 110,630 young men.
Commission chair and principal of Hertford College, Will Hutton, said: “The first year of fees produced a worrying widening in the university gender gap. In working class areas, there has been a decline over two years in the number of boys accepted for university, while the number of girls accepted has risen.
“This is particularly worrying, because women are already a third more likely to go to university than men, and the danger is that the higher fees may be having a disproportionate impact on men, who are already under-represented at university.”
The Commission was set up to monitor the impact of the hike in tuition fees on university participation. From 2012, English universities have been able to charge up to £9,000 per year for courses, raising the cap from its 2011/12 level of £3,375.