Disadvantaged young people in inner-London are more likely to go to university than wealthier youngsters outside the capital, according to official figures.
The Department for Education analysis reveals big regional differences across England in the likelihood of getting places in higher education.
Inner London’s entry rate is 48% for pupils eligible for free school meals.
This is higher than non-free school meals pupils anywhere outside London.
The figures show a widening gap in getting places in higher education between disadvantaged and better-off pupils – using eligibility for free school meals as a measure.
Regional and ethnic differences
Across England, 26% of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) go into higher education by the age of 19, compared with 45% of those not eligible for free meals (non-FSM).
But below the national averages there are major differences by location and ethnicity.
In inner London, 58% of non-FSM pupils go on to higher education, significantly above the highest region outside the capital, the West Midlands, with an entry rate of 45%.
But among those who are eligible for free school meals in inner London, the entry rate is 48%, higher than the proportion of non-free school meals pupils going to university anywhere else in England.
In contrast, in the South West 18% of pupils on free school meals go on to higher education and 19% in the North East.
Even in inner London, only 6% of FSM pupils go to the top universities, compared with 13% for non-FSM.
And in the North East, East and East Midlands, only 2% of FSM pupils go to these “high tariff” universities.
Imogen Rarhan of the Reform think tank said: “Top universities should be engines of social mobility, but today’s statistics show that this is far from a reality.
“If the prime minister is serious about closing the opportunity gap and “levelling up” attainment in the country this must be a priority,” she said.
The university access figures show a continuing pattern of white youngsters having among the lowest entry rates.
Among white teenagers, 38% go on to higher education, compared with 60% of black pupils and 64% of Asian.
The highest entry rate, 78%, is for Chinese youngsters.
Among black African female pupils eligible for free school meals, the rate is 67%.
But only 13% of white British male FSM pupils go on to higher education.