Only one in 10 students attending college comes from a disadvantaged background.
A new report from the Higher Education Authority has found that students from affluent areas are earning 30% more than those from less well-off areas.
Medicine, economics and maths were found to be most likely to include richer students – with 36% of medicine students from affluent backgrounds.
Only 3.5% of people studying medicine were found to be from “disadvantaged” areas.
The HEA said the report, which is the first of its kind to be carried out, will help third-level institutions develop targeted approaches to ensuring their courses are open to all.
The authority’s Head of Access Policy, Caitríona Ryan said the new data proves that more work is needed to ensure everyone is offered the same level of opportunity.
“Leaving Cert points attainment is a key determinant of what students will study at college and where they go,” she said.
“Leaving Certificate points attainment is strongly correlated with depravation index scores.
“So I think what it really demonstrates to us is that we really need a whole of education approach to supporting equity of access to higher education – starting at pre-school, primary school, post-primary school, all the way through and working with communities to raise aspirations and raise expectations.”
The report finds that students from richer backgrounds earn 40% more than those from disadvantaged areas just nine months after graduating.
Meanwhile, university graduates earn more than people graduates from institutes of technology.
“The report does show that students from more affluent backgrounds, just nine months after graduation – on average – earn 30% more than students from less affluent backgrounds,” she said.
“That controls for all backgrounds regarding courses studies, grades and all that. It is this kind of unexplained differential – so it is a cause for concern.”
The data was gathered by combining student PPS numbers and home addresses with information measuring affluence and deprivation from the census
According to the report, UCD, UCC and RCSI have the most students from well-off backgrounds.
The Letterkenny Institute of Technology has the highest proportion of students from disadvantage backgrounds while the IADT in Dun Laoghaire had the highest proportion of those coming from affluent areas.
Trinity was not included in the study.