Universities will face fines of up to £500,000 if they fail to stick to agreements to take in more working class students.
The threat emerged last night as the Government published details of how its new "access tsar" - designed to get disadvantaged groups into higher education - would work.
The regulations state that - in extreme circumstances - universities would be fined for failing to stick to agreements by the new Office for Fair Access (Offa), being set up by the Government. Ministers also said they would expect universities with a poor record of attracting disadvantaged students to offer more than the basic £300 a year minimum bursary needed to be given the go ahead to charge top-up fees.
Guidance published yesterday spells out ministers' determination that Offa will target old-established universities. Some top institutions, such as Cambridge, Exeter and Imperial College, London, have already signalled they intend to offer bursaries of £4,000 a year to poorer students.
MPs resume debate today on the Higher Education Bill. The setting up of the "access tsar" is being viewed as a sweetener to rebel Labour MPs worried the proposals will put off poorer students from university. Offa will have no power over individual admissions. However, the Conservatives said that Offa was concerned with "meddling" with university admissions.
A spokeswoman for Universities UK, which represents the country's vice-chancellors, said it would "look in detail' at the draft proposals.
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