A Cambridge University chief today criticised pressure on top academic institutions to up their intake of students from state schools and disadvantaged backgrounds.
Alison Richard, vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, said universities exist to educate and lead research and should not be seen as "engines for promoting social justice".
Her comments to The Times come as elite universities are urged to do more to attract students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Professor Richard said: "We try to reach out to the best students, whatever their background. One outcome of that is that we can help to promote social mobility. But promoting social mobility is not our core mission. Our core mission is to provide an outstanding education within a research setting.
"As institutions charged with education, research and training, our purpose is not to be construed as that of handmaidens of industry, implementers of the skills agenda, or indeed engines for promoting social justice."
Figures released last week showed the proportion of state school pupils offered places at Cambridge university has risen by 4 per cent this year.
In total, 59 per cent of admissions were from state schools and colleges - the highest proportion of maintained sector admissions since 1981.
Speaking at the opening of 30 new schools across the country, Schools Secretary Ed Balls called for wider participation in higher education.
"Children of all backgrounds need to be familiar with university not fear it. They need to feel university is for them, so that we ensure they achieve their potential and use their talent," he said.