England’s universities should give pupils from poor backgrounds guaranteed interviews and lower offers, a key report on social mobility says.
Alan Milburn wants universities to “redouble their efforts” to give places to all those with talent and potential.
He says universities spend too much on bursaries and tuition fee waivers.
Money should be targeted at schools instead, adds the former Labour MP, asked by the government to review policies around social mobility.
Mr Milburn acknowledges recent progress on getting more pupils from non-traditional backgrounds into university.
But he warns: “Universities will need a new level of dogged determination if progress is to be made.”
He calls for statistical targets on widening participation and a commitment to ensure that all outreach programmes have “maximum social impact”.
And he says: “Universities should offer guaranteed interviews and, where appropriate, lower offers to less-advantaged pupils in schools they support.”
He also wants them to provide bright poor pupils with the chance to study for a foundation degree if they have lower grades than they would usually ask for.
The report is likely to fuel the debate surrounding “social engineering” in university admissions and lead to fresh fears privately educated children will face discrimination.
Mr Milburn claims poor GCSE and A-level results remain the biggest barrier to higher education and says universities’ efforts should be channelled towards intervention at a much earlier age.
Some of the money they currently spend on fee waivers and bursaries would be better targeted at getting 16-year-olds to stay on in education, achieve good A-levels and get into higher education.
This follows the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance in England last year after ministers claimed most of the money was “dead weight” – going to students who would have attended sixth form or college anyway.
Mr Milburn told the BBC: “The best thing that can be done in my view is to try to get kids to stay on at school after 16, to study hard, work well, get their A-level results and then progress on to university.
“So one of the things that universities can look at doing, following the government’s decision, which I think is regrettable, to abolish the education maintenance allowance, is to provide a financial incentive for poorer families to get their youngsters to stay on at 16 rather than going into work because that way they stand the best chance of getting into higher education.”
BBC © 2012