White teenagers are less likely to apply to university than youngsters from any other ethnic group, according to research.
Fewer than three in 10 white 18-year-olds have applied to start degree courses this autumn, while applications from black pupils have increased significantly since 2006, data published by Ucas shows.
It also provides evidence that women are outnumbering men at university, with young women nearly a third more likely to apply this year.
The statistics come in a Ucas report looking at the demand for university courses, based on applications made by March 24.
The findings show that 29% of white, state-educated 18-year-olds in England applied by the March deadline this year, compared with more than 50% of those from a Chinese background and 40% for those from an Asian ethnic group.
Application rates for black 18-year-olds have risen from 20% in 2006 to 34% this year, the report says.
In total, around 44% of young people in England apply to go to university by the time they are 19, but there are differences between the sexes, with young women 29% more likely to apply this year than men.
The report also shows:
- 18-year-olds from the richest areas are still 4.3 times more likely to apply to one of the UK's most selective universities - those asking for the highest entry grades - than teenagers from the poorest areas. In 2004 they were six times more likely to apply to these institutions.
- Overall, teenagers from the most advantaged areas are 2.7 times more likely to apply to any university, than those from the most disadvantaged. In 2004 those from the most advantaged areas were 4.3 times more likely to apply.
- Teenagers not previously on free school meals were more than twice as likely to apply to start university this year than those in receipt of free meals.
- 18-year-olds from London are the most likely to want to study for a degree, with 42% applying this year. At the other end of the scale, the North East has the lowest application rate, at 31%. The North West has seen the biggest proportional increase in youngsters wanting to go to university, with 35% applying this year compared with 26% in 2004. The smallest increase was in the South West where rates have risen to 31% this year from 28% in 2004.
Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said: "Young application rates for higher education are rising again after falls in 2012 and the gap between rich and poor is closing as disadvantaged groups are applying at record levels.
"Our new analysis of demand by ethnic group shows that white pupils at English schools now have the lowest application rate of any ethnic group. There has been significant growth in demand from black pupils.
"There are eye-catching regional variations in demand, with the North of England generally showing higher growth rates than the South."
A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokeswoman said: "These figures confirm that the desire to study at university remains strong, with application rates for 18-year-olds at near record levels.
"Some challenges remain but no one should be put off going to university for financial reasons. Our reforms mean students do not have to pay fees upfront, there is more financial support for those from poorer families and everyone faces lower loan repayments once they are in well-paid jobs."
Director of fair access Professor Les Ebdon said: "We know that overall demand for higher education remains high, with a 3% increase in the number of total applicants for 2013/14 previously announced by Ucas.
"Today's report lets us look behind the headline figure. We are seeing further very encouraging evidence that the rise in applications continues a long-term increase in participation from people from disadvantaged backgrounds. We will require further evidence, over time, to be sure of the impact of the 2012 reforms, but this data is extremely welcome.
"The figures demonstrate clearly that universities' significant efforts to widen participation to higher education are making a real and lasting difference to thousands of lives. People who might otherwise have never have thought of university are now applying, thanks to a range of sustained outreach work which informs and inspires."