Young people from coastal towns like Great Yarmouth and Clacton are being "left behind" when it comes to access to university education, it is claimed.
The Office for Students (OfS) looked into what factors play a role in whether someone goes into higher education, with the measure including race, poverty and location.
"Through this work, we have identified that 90% of the students in the lowest-participation quintile using this measure are white British, and have either received free school meals or grown up in a low-participation neighbourhood," the OfS said.
"These are the people and places that have been left behind."
The OfS director for fair access and participation, Chris Millward, said the new measure found white young people on free meals or from disadvantaged areas comprised 92% of those in the bottom fifth of those likely to attend university.
Mr Millward warned that former industrial and coastal communities have been left behind in recent years.
He said: "The expansion of educational opportunities, and the belief that equality of opportunity would flow from this, have not delivered for them. So they are less likely to see education as the way to improve their lives."
The OfS said it will continue considering how the new measure "can improve support for the most underrepresented groups of students" by working with higher learning institutions.
It comes days after the long-awaited interim response to the Augar review of higher education outlined the Government’s intention to freeze the maximum amount a university in England can charge in tuition fees to deliver "better value for students" and keep the cost of higher education "under control".