University 'drop-out risk for poorer students'
University students from poorer homes are more likely to drop out and less likely to achieve a good degree than those from richer homes, research says.
The gap remains even if the poorer students start degree courses with similar grades to their richer peers.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies report says students from less advantaged homes need more support at university.
Ministers say they are working closely with universities to ensure students receive the support they need.
The report assessed data concerning English students who started a degree at a UK university between the years 2004-05 and 2008-09 - around one million individuals in total.
The researchers found that, in general, students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds were 8.4 percentage points more likely to drop out of university within two years of starting their course, compared with those from the most advantaged homes.
They were also 13.3 percentage points less likely to complete their degree within five years, and 22.9 percentage points less likely to graduate with a first or 2:1.
When the researchers compared students who arrived at university with similar grades to study on the same course, these differences fell but remained significant.
Undergraduates from the 20% most disadvantaged backgrounds are still 3.4 percentage points more likely to drop out of university than those from the 20% most advantaged homes.
They are 5.3 percentage points less likely to complete their degree studies and 3.7 percentage points less likely to graduate with a first or 2:1.
The findings suggest that a key part of measures to reduce inequalities in degree performance between the richest and poorest students should be to "increase the attainment of those from the poorest families earlier in the school system", the report argues.
It also argues that the fact that youngsters from deprived backgrounds do less well on average at university than their richer peers - even when they have similar prior attainment - suggests that poor students may need extra support at university to enable them to succeed.
Progression and performance
Study author Claire Crawford said: "Our research highlights that there are large differences in university outcomes by socio-economic background, a substantial proportion of which can be explained by differences in attainment earlier in the education system.
"While improving the attainment of students from disadvantaged backgrounds at school is likely to aid their performance at university as well, we find non-negligible differences in university outcomes between students from different socio-economic backgrounds at the same university, studying the same subject, who arrived with the same grades.
"This suggests that universities may wish to focus on improving the progression and performance of students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as widening access."
A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "A cornerstone of our HE reforms was to ensure that everybody has equal access to a university education.
"As a result, we now have record numbers of students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, and overall retention of students is at record levels.
"Whilst the findings of this report reflect the period before the recent reforms, there is still work to do - that is why we are working closely with universities to ensure students receive the support they require to make a success of their time at university."