University admissions figures show white teenagers are the least likely ethnic group to apply for places. Figures from Ucas show that all ethnic groups have increased application rates – but white teenagers are less likely to apply than Asian or black pupils.
The 2014 figures for England show poorer pupils applying in record numbers, but still significantly less than their better-off peers. Female pupils remain much more likely than males to apply.
The figures from the Ucas admissions service provide an early analysis of young people applying to start university this autumn. It looks at applications from 18-year-olds in England’s state schools – and compares this year’s cohort with 2006.
The figures show a substantial increase in university applications among all groups – but with wide variations according to ethnicity and income. Almost 45% of Asian teenagers applied to university, compared with 39% of black teenagers and 31% of white teenagers.
This shows that since 2006 black teenagers have overtaken their white counterparts in the proportion applying to university. The proportion of white teenagers has risen from 25% to 31%, but not as quickly as black teenagers, whose application rates rose much more rapidly from 24% to 39%. The highest application rates of all are for the relatively small number of Chinese teenagers.
A study published this week by the London School of Economics, based on applications in 2008, claimed that ethnic minority candidates were less likely to be offered places than their similarly qualified white counterparts.
The snapshot from Ucas also shows the shifting demographics of the young population. There has been a decline in secondary age pupils, which is set to be reversed as the surge in numbers at primary level begins to reach secondary schools.
These latest figures show that the overall year group in 2014 is smaller than in 2006. This reflects that the fall in the number of white teenagers has been greater than the increase in ethnic minority pupils.
White pupils remain by far the biggest overall number, representing 82% of this year group.
The Ucas figures also show a substantial rise in applications from poorer teenagers, identified by being eligible for free school meals.
This year, 18% of free school meals pupils applied to university, up from 11% in 2006. But this is significantly below the 37% rate of applications from pupils not eligible for free meals. The size of the gap between these poorer children and the rest of the year group remains very similar to eight years ago.
Les Ebdon, director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said: “The upwards application trends are good news, but stark gaps remain between application rates from young people from different backgrounds.
“That means many talented, intelligent young people are missing out on the economic and social mobility that higher education helps to support, and the country is missing out on a pool of potentially excellent graduates who could be enriching our economy and society.”