Less than a quarter of state educated children won places at top universities in 2010/11, compared to nearly two-thirds of independent students.
The 40 per cent gap has actually increased over the last five years.
The figures, released today by the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) department, have emerged just under a week before A-level results for nearly 300,000 pupils are released nationally.
The president of the National Union of Students, Toni Pearce, said: “These figures show the desperate need for government and universities to increase support for students from state schools both in getting to university in the first place and in completing their studies.”
The figures show the gap has increased by three per cent since 2006/07, when 31 per cent of state school pupils were registered as attending selective higher education institutions.
Pearce continued: “Outreach programmes which encourage state school students to apply for the most competitive universities need to be accompanied by direct financial support to help poorer students cover their expenses while they study.”
The report defined the most selective institutions as those in the top third of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) when ranked by mean UCAS tariff score from the top three A-level grades of entrants.
Pearce noted students who are less likely to go to university in the first place were much more sensitive to the daily financial pressures of being a student, and the doubtful value of fee-waiver support against that of regular cash support.
The figures only show up to the academic year 2012/11, prior to the government’s decision to increase tuition fees to up to £9,000.
Universities have faced criticism for this disparity in previous years. In June, a social mobility commission called for higher targets to close the ‘access gap’.
Ofsted chief Michael Wilshaw has claimed meanwhile that private schools are ‘marooned on an island of privilege'.
Additionally, a survey recently claimed that less than half of state secondary school teachers encouraged their pupils to apply for Oxford or Cambridge. The survey, conducted by education charity the Sutton Trust, suggested that teachers own misconceptions could be partially to blame for the disparity in state and private school leavers’ attendance at these institutions.