More 17-30 year-old English people than ever are going to university, according to figures released by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on Wednesday.

There was a 2% rise in young people learning at a higher education institute in 2008/09 – rising from 43% to 45% on the previous year.

Most young English women now opt for university, as 51% chose higher education in 08/09. Males are up too – from 38% to 40%.

The increasing student numbers will put more pressure on universities after the BIS slashed university budgets by £900m in December last year. The Government has a target of 50% of all young people going to university.

In a statement on the BIS website, Lord Mandelson, secretary of state for BIS, said: “Today’s statistics show that we continue to make good progress towards this Government’s aspiration that 50% of 18 to 30 year olds should go on to study higher education, indeed, over 50 per cent of women now do.

“This aspiration is important not for the sake of a target, but because Britain’s economy needs skilled graduates to innovate, grow and secure the recovery. A university education also sets students up to succeed across their lifetimes and a British degree is still a great investment for any individual.”

Despite the recent huge cuts to higher education and the introduction of tuition fees by the Government, David Lammy, minister for higher education, claims Labour “remain determined to further open up university education to people from all backgrounds.”

He said that the Government will fund an additional 20,000 undergraduate places for 2010/11 in “areas which are a priority for the economy”, which will be paid for by an increased tax on bankers’ bonuses.