The proportion of young adults in England going to university has risen to a record high.
More than half (51.9%) of English 17 to 30-year-olds participated in higher education in 2018/19, figures from the Department for Education (DfE) show.
The data has been published after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson pledged to ditch the target to send 50% of young people to university and focus more on further education (FE).
In July, Mr Williamson said there were “limits” to what could be achieved by sending more people into higher education, adding that it is “not always what the individual and nation needs”.
Former prime minister Tony Blair, in a speech in 1999, set a target of 50% of young people in England going into higher education.
The release said the “continuing relevance” of the statistic is being considered because the milestone of 50% participation has been passed.
The figures, which cover UK universities and colleges, also show a widening gender gap, with women more likely to enter higher education than men.
The overall “higher education participation rate” has increased from 2017/18 – where it rose above 50% for the first time – to nearly 52% in 2018/19.
Meanwhile, the participation rate for women was 59.1% while for their male peers it was 45.1% in 2018/19 – a gap of 14 percentage points, which is the largest on record.
In 2017/18, the gender participation gap was 12.5 percentage points.
These figures are an estimate of the likelihood of a young person taking part in higher education by the time they are 30, based on current participation rates.
In 2017/18, 51.5% of English 17 to 30 year olds participated in higher education (HE), the data suggests.
Due to methodological improvements, the measure has been boosted in this year’s statistical release by the inclusion of participants at alternative HE providers. This impacts the measure from 2014/15 onwards, the DfE said.
A Universities UK (UUK) spokesman said: “It is important that every student has the choice to follow the path which is right for them to best fulfil their potential.
“Opting to study at university is an excellent choice and it will open doors and provide value throughout your life.”
A DfE spokeswoman said: “Universities have worked hard to make places available for everyone with the potential and ability.
“The Government has set out an ambitious agenda to level up opportunity across the country. This includes helping students make the best post-16 choice for their future, whether that is in higher education, an apprenticeship or further and technical education.”