24/10/2013 03:31 BST | Updated 31/10/2013 10:09 GMT

Rising Numbers Of Young People Going To University

Rising Numbers Of Young People Going To University

Rising numbers of young people are choosing to go to university, with women more likely to study for a degree than men, new figures show.

More than a third (38%) of those who were 18 in 2011/12 went into higher education, up from three in 10 (30%) of those who were the same age in 1998/99, according to data published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

The data looks at the proportion of school leavers going on to university, taking into account their sex, background and home town, from the late 1990s up until 2011/12.

The findings show a 26% increase over this period in the proportion of 18-year-olds continuing their education beyond A-levels and equivalent qualifications, with most of the rise happening from the mid-2000s onwards.

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But the figures also suggest that a teenager's chances of going to university still depend heavily on where they live, their background and whether they are male or female.

HEFCE's report says that by 2011/12, women were, on average, over a fifth (22%) more likely to attend university by age 19 than men.

And in areas of the country where few students go into higher education, women were over a third (35%) more likely to go than their male peers.

The gap between the numbers of rich and poor pupils going to university "remains large", the report warns.

In the late 1990s, teenagers living in areas of England where high numbers of students went into higher education were four times more likely to study for a degree than those living in areas where few people chose to continue their education.

By 2011/12 this had narrowed with those living in "high-participation" areas three times more likely to go to university than those in areas of "low-participation".

But the report adds: "Young people in the most disadvantaged areas would need to treble their participation rate in order to match the rate of those from the most advantaged areas."

Professor Les Ebdon, director of fair access to higher education, said he was pleased to see "sustained progress" in the numbers of disadvantaged students going to university.

But he added: "Young people from the most advantaged neighbourhoods in England are still three times more likely to go to higher education than the most disadvantaged young people. Meanwhile, there has been a 40% decline in part-time study over recent years, which is worrying because part-time students are more likely to come from groups that are currently under-represented in higher education.

"Addressing these complex issues requires universities, colleges and schools to work together, engaging across the learner's whole lifecycle. This means encouraging children from an early age to think about higher education as an option, supporting teenagers as they make key decisions, and working with employers to reach out to potential mature students. It's also vital that policy is joined up across all education sectors."

18-year-olds in London are the most likely to go to university, with the gap between the proportions of teenagers in the capital and those in the rest of the country widening, the study shows.

By 2011/12 youngsters in London were over a third (36%) more likely to go into higher education than those who were the same age in the late 1990s, and were around 43% more likely to go than young people living in the North East, the region where teenagers are the least likely to continue their education beyond A-levels.

The findings show that the areas where youngsters are the least likely to go to university tend to be along the coast, in rural parts of the South West, the East Midlands and the East of England as well as in former industrial towns in the Midlands and the North of England.