Rising numbers of poor students are winning places at university, new figures show.

More than 20,000 UK teenagers from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have already had degree places confirmed for this autumn — up 8 per cent on last year, according to early data published by the admissions service Ucas.

It also reveals the gulf between the sexes is widening, with more women applying than men, prompting Ucas chief Mary Curnock Cook to warn that there should be more focus on boys’ educational achievement in schools.

The Ucas analysis shows that as of midnight, 20,090 UK 18-year-olds from the poorest areas had been accepted, up 1,420 compared with last year, with the gap between the richest and poorest young people narrowing.

But the statistics also indicate that those from the wealthiest backgrounds are still more than twice as likely to start a degree course, with 56,480 accepted so far this year.

Professor Les Ebdon, director of fair access to higher education, said: “This initial analysis from Ucas shows that more students from disadvantaged backgrounds are getting a place at university than ever before, which is fantastic news.

”The figures from Ucas show that the gap in participation between the most and least advantaged young people is narrowing. Many more students from disadvantaged backgrounds will now benefit from the life-changing opportunities that higher education can offer.

“I will be interested in further analysis in due course, particularly to see whether more students are winning places at highly selective universities, where the participation gap remains much too high.”

A total of 224,570 women have already had their places confirmed, compared to 172,420 men — a gap of more than 52,000. This has widened since the same point last year, when just under 46,000 more women had been placed.

Ms Curnock Cook said: “It is wonderful to be able to report the success that universities and colleges have had in recruiting record numbers of well-qualified students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

”However I would like to see more focus on educational achievement for boys through primary and secondary education to support improved access to Higher Education.”

A separate Ucas analysis shows that the universities with the highest tariffs — the selective institutions asking for the highest entry grades - are recruiting more students. Around 120,140 applicants have won places at higher tariff universities so far, up 3b per cent on last year. This is around 3,730 extra students.