White teenagers are less likely to go to university than school-leavers from other ethnic groups—even with the same A-level results, according to official figures.
The gap is widest among male teenagers from poor backgrounds, raising fresh fears that working class boys are becoming the education “underclass” in England.
According to a Government report, just over one-in-20 white boys from poor homes goes on to university.
This compares to 66 per cent of Indian girls and 65 per cent of young women from Chinese families.
An analysis published by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said the rise in the number of women going to university over the last 10 or 20 years “had made the performance of males look relatively dismal”.
The report said many working class white boys dropped out of education at the earliest opportunity, aged 16.
Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, said schools needed to intervene at an earlier age to get white boys interested in college and university.
“I think that culture plays a very important role,” he said. “Part of what we have to do is to look across society and look among the ethnic minority groups where there is a very strong attachment to education and try to learn from that.”
An analysis carried out by the DIUS looked at the number of teenagers going on to university, broken down by gender, ethnicity, social class and achievement at school.
It found that women were in the minority at university up to 1992, but over the last 15 years the balance had shifted.
Last year the proportion of young men studying for a degree fell to 35 per cent, compared to 47 per cent of women.
Despite fears that women are much more likely to go to university, the report said ethnicity and social class had a “larger” bearing on staying on rates.
The gaps “did not disappear entirely” even when comparing students with the same A-level results, researchers said.
“In fact, in the case of ethnicity, it was overwhelmingly clear the young people from non-white backgrounds were much more likely to participate in higher education than their white peers with similar prior attainment,” said the study.
Just six per cent of white boys eligible for free school meals went to university compared to 26 per cent of working class young men from ethnic minority backgrounds. Some 34 per cent of girls from deprived ethnic minority families went to university, according to researchers.
Young white men from poor homes were eight and a half times less likely to go to university than ethnic minority women from middle-class families.
Among some ethnic groups, university participation rates were even higher.
Overall, 58 per cent of men from Indian backgrounds and 66 per cent of women go on to university. Among Chinese families, 60 per cent of boys and 65 per cent of women go to university.
Black Caribbean boys were the only group less likely to go to university than white boys.
The Conservatives said the disclosure proved that Labour was failing pupils from poor homes.
But the Government insisted a series of programmes had been launched to break down the barriers, including sending successful male role models into state schools.
In Leicester, undergraduates hold a football competition for schoolboys to give them a taste of student life.
It is also hoped the Government’s new-style diploma qualifications—combining work-based training and classroom study—will prove more popular than traditional A-levels among many young men.