Students from disadvantaged backgrounds should be able to swap universities after two years and transfer to a Russell Group institution if they show talent, according to one of the country's top scientists.
The radical plan will be outlined in a pamphlet to be published on Monday by Lord Rees, the Astronomer Royal and a former master of Trinity College, Cambridge.The idea is based on a successful scheme run by the University of California in the United States, which aims to give a "second chance" to students who fluff their chances of getting a top university place the first time round.
Yesterday Lord Rees urged all the universities in the Russell Group – which represents 24 of the country's top research institutions, including Oxford and Cambridge – to hold back places for students who wanted to transfer after two years. He argued it would take time to transform failing schools, so the scheme "would give a second chance to people who were not so successful at their secondary school".
"I think the elite universities should reserve some of the places for people who have come not directly from school but from elsewhere," he said.
Lord Rees added that in the Californian model "a large number of those who attend the 'elite' universities [such as Berkeley and UCLA] have come not directly from high school but from a lower-tier institution".
He argued that students should be given credits for the two years they spend at their first institution, which could then be transferred to their new degree course.
Lord Rees, who was speaking to Politeia – the think-tank that is publishing his pamphlet – also added that it "should not be regarded as disgraceful" if students dropped out of their degree courses after two years.