FEWER than one in 12 students admitted to The University of Southampton last year were from disadvantaged areas, despite a push to diversify student intakes across the country.

Of 3,140 students aged under 21 who started a full-time undergraduate course at The University of Southampton in 2018-19, 250 were from places in the UK where relatively few young adults go into higher education, Higher Education Statistics Agency figures show.

While a slight improvement on the previous year, when it was 7.7%, that was lower than the 11.4% average across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where the proportion of disadvantaged pupils going to university failed to increase last year.

Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, England’s higher education watchdog, said: “Each year of slow progress is one where thousands of people with the ability to excel in higher education are missing out.

“That is why it is so important that all universities and colleges registered with the Office for Students have set out the work they will do over the next five years to cut deep-seated gaps in higher education access and outcomes between the most and least advantaged students.”

The UK’s most selective institutions have agreed tough targets with the watchdog for the next five years, and those failing to make progress could face sanctions, including financial penalties.

But Dr Maria Neophytou, director of social mobility charity Impetus, said: “Over the last five years the gap has barely changed, yet universities are telling the Office for Students that over the next five years, they will halve this gap.”

A spokesperson from the University of Southampton said: “We are proud of our record in supporting access, participation and success for students from all backgrounds and the proportion of our students from disadvantaged backgrounds has increased in the last ten years. 87 per cent of our full-time, young undergraduates were from state schools in 2018/19, which was fourth highest in the Russell Group of research intensive universities.

“Our university was one of the first to introduce contextual admissions, which give consideration to the achievements of students who have been in care, attended a lower performing school or live in a neighbourhood with low participation in higher education. We have a very active schools outreach programme, which includes leading the Southern Universities Network (SUN). SUN provides outreach activities for schools and colleges and encourages children from under-represented backgrounds to apply for higher education.”