Data from the Department for Education shows that, of 350 students in Northumberland who received free school meals at the age of 15, just 55 (15.7%) were at university in 2019-20 – up from the 20.3% the year before.
Of 2,854 other pupils in the area, 40.6% were studying in higher education at the age of 19 – meaning the progression gap between poorer pupils and non-disadvantaged students was 24.9%, slightly up from 24.8% in 2018-19.
The Sutton Trust – which campaigns for equal access to high quality education said the university access gap is as large now as it was 14 years ago.
In England, 26.6% of pupils who received free school meals at age 15 were participating in higher education in 2019-20 – compared to 45.7% of those who from better of families.
James Turner, chief executive of the Sutton Trust, said: "The fact that the university access gap has not closed at all in the past decade, shows just how stubborn and ingrained inequalities are in our system.
"The Covid-19 pandemic means that the divide between disadvantaged students and their classmates is likely to become even wider, but there is an urgency to act now to prevent the gaps widening still further.”
A DfE spokesman said: “Ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to access a world-class education remains a top priority, and we expect universities to do all they can to help disadvantaged students.”