A record proportion of Northern Ireland school leavers have entered university over the past two years, new analysis by the Department for Education (DE) has revealed.
Almost 48% of school leavers entered university in both 2020 and 2021 - making for the highest Northern Ireland rates on record.
Almost three quarters (72.6%) of those entering university in 2021 stayed to study in Northern Ireland, but about 2,800 school leavers here began university in the rest of the UK or elsewhere.
It comes after pupils received grades calculated by their schools after summer exams were cancelled both years. The analysis shows a significant jump in A-Level results in 2020 and 2021.
There has also been a significant fall in the number of school leavers entering Further Education (FE) Colleges.
The number of Northern Ireland school leavers making their way to university has had a marked increase over the past number of years. In 2004, just over a third of school leavers went to university, while almost 30% began employment or work-based training.
In 2012, about 42% of school leavers entered university, while the proportion in employment or training had fallen to about 17%.Meanwhile, more than a third of school leavers also began courses at FE Colleges.
The new figures in the department's Qualifications and Destinations of Northern Ireland School Leavers 2020-21 report show 47.9% of school leavers in Northern Ireland entered university in both 2020 and 2021.Just over a quarter (27%) of school leavers began a course of study in an FE College in 2021.
Women were more likely to go to university than men. Over half (56.3%) of female school leavers entered university in 2021 compared to about four in ten (39.8%) male leavers. Pupils from a Catholic background were also more likely to go to university than pupils from a Protestant or "other" background, according to the DE statistics.
The proportion of girls achieving at least three A-Levels at grades A* - C was also significantly higher than the proportion of boys achieving the same grades.
Approximately three-quarters of grammar school pupils went to university in 2021 compared to about a quarter of pupils at non-grammars.
Well over half of pupils left school with at least three A-Levels at grades A*-C in both 2020 and 2021, compared to around 40% in the three previous years.
But DE said "caution should be taken" because of changes in how grades were awarded those years compared to previous years.