Britain's universities remain dominated by students from better-off homes, Nick Clegg protested as he called for a drive against the “educational apartheid” in higher education.
Warning that the country was still afflicted by “social segregation”, he vowed that the coalition Government would attempt to boost the life chances of youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Deputy Prime Minister was scathing about the failure of universities to recruit more working-class students.
“Increased levels of attendance at university have not translated into higher levels of social mobility,” he said in a speech in London to the CentreForum thinktank.
“A disproportionate number of university students come from the middle and upper classes,” he said.
Mr Clegg protested that higher education was still the main route into high-quality jobs, adding: “We need to attack the educational apartheid that currently exists between vocational and academic learning in general, and between further and higher education in particular.”
He promised reform of higher educational funding to break down the barriers.
Venturing into “perilous waters for politicians”, he told parents they had a responsibility to be as involved as possible in the schooling of their children.
He said one survey concluded that the interest shown by parents in their youngsters’ education was “four times more important than socio-economic background in explaining education outcomes at the age of 16”.
Mr Clegg confirmed that the Alan Milburn has been appointed as the Government's independent reviewer on social mobility. He said the former Labour Cabinet minister would be “holding our feet to the fire” in assessing the coalition’s progress in improving social mobility.