Prospects of university applications 'depend heavily on where students live'
Teenagers in some parts of the UK are around four times as likely as their peers to apply to go to university, figures show.
Statistics suggest a youngster's chances of applying for a degree course depend heavily on where they live, and in some areas the proportions planning on going into higher education has dropped in the last decade.
A Press Association analysis of Ucas data reveals that on average this year, 55% of 18-year-olds living in the top 10% of parliamentary constituencies in terms of university applications applied for a degree course by the main January 15 deadline.
Just 24% of youngsters living in the bottom 10% of constituencies applied by the same point.
The highest application rate was in the Conservative-held seat of Wimbledon, south-west London, where 70.3% applied.
At the other end of the scale, in Havant, Hampshire, also a Tory seat, the application rate was 17.4%.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and executive chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "The massive difference in the numbers going on to university between the top and bottom constituencies reflects the fact that the chances of getting to university are very much dependent on where you live and where you go to school."
He added that further work, such as more summer schools and support for clever pupils, is needed, focusing on areas with lower attendance rates.
The statistics also indicate that young people in Tory seats are slightly more likely to apply than those in Labour constituencies.
The average application rate across 328 Tory constituencies was 38%, compared with 34% across 231 Labour seats.
Northern Ireland has the highest application rate this year, at 48%, followed by England, where more than one in three (37%) have applied, and then Wales at 32%.
In Scotland, a large proportion of higher education is provided by Scottish colleges, which are not included in the Ucas data.
In England alone, London had the highest application rates at 47%, while the South West had the lowest at 32%.
While the vast majority of constituencies have seen a rise in applications since 2007, 13 are seeing fewer youngsters going to university than they were a decade ago.
These are: Cities of London and Westminster (down 4.3 percentage points); Carmarthen East & Dinefwr ( down 3.7); Penrith and The Border (down 2.8); Fermanagh and South Tyrone (down 2.3); Barrow and Furness (down 2.0); New Forest East (down 1.2); Nottingham South (down 1.1); Preseli Pembrokeshire (down 0.6); Bedfordshire North East (down 0.5); Meon Valley (down 0.2); Bristol West (down 0.2); Devon South West ( down 0.1); Brighton Kemptown (down 0.1).
Two - Solihull and Faversham and Kent Mid - are unchanged.
The biggest increase was in Chelsea and Fulham, west London, which saw a jump from 41% to 65% - 24 percentage points.
Nicola Dandridge chief executive of Universities UK, said an advisory group set up last year to look at application rates had acknowledged that "disadvantage is deeply entrenched in our society".
"While the economic and social position of a student's family has the greatest impact on their access to university, the geographical location of where they live is also increasingly being recognised.
"While there are no quick and easy solutions, the report recommended that universities should work even more closely with schools and colleges in a range of ways."
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "These figures suggest that university applications are higher in more affluent constituencies and lower in those with more disadvantage, and therefore reflect the well-known link between socio-economic inequality and educational attainment.
"Schools and colleges in challenging areas are working incredibly hard to close that attainment gap and support pupils who do not have the same advantages in life as their wealthier peers. However, the education system cannot solve the impact of significant socio-economic inequality on its own.
"There are a range of social factors which must also be addressed in disadvantaged areas, such as improving the provision of secure, well-paid employment, and good-quality, affordable housing."
A Department for Education spokesman said application rates for 18-year-olds and poorer youngsters are at record levels.
"The reforms we are bringing in through the Higher Education and Research Bill will mean even more people can benefit from a university education," he said.
"As well as placing a duty on the Office for Students to ensure institutions do more to attract students from every background, we have also invested £120 million in the National Collaborative Outreach Programme to help young people get the opportunity they deserve to study at university."