Students from deprived backgrounds could be accepted to Russell Group and 1994 Group universities with C grades at A level when As are normally required if they complete an online programme aimed at developing their research skills.
The proposal is being considered as part of a Government-backed project aimed at helping the "most able least likely" students to progress to research-intensive universities.
A document produced by Ella Ritchie, pro vice-chancellor of the University of Newcastle, which is leading the project, says 11 universities have expressed interest in a web-based course to help students develop the skills needed to flourish at a research-intensive university.
"Successful completion of the module would lead to a lower offer (40 Ucas points)," the document says. Forty points on the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service form is the difference between an A grade at A level, worth 120 points, and a C grade, worth 80 points.
The document notes that two Russell Group universities involved in the Realising Opportunities project - the University of Warwick and King's College London - are "unlikely to participate" in this element of the scheme.
Professor Ritchie told Times Higher Education that a number of approaches to preparing students for life at a top research university are being considered and that pilot initiatives have not been agreed yet.
"Discussions between the 13 universities are ongoing. Obviously, there are a range of approaches to widening participation and fair access, and we are looking to build on the experience and expertise of the group and find a way that allows us all to move forward together."
The project, which is backed with £1.2 million in state funding, will run between 2009-10 and 2011-12.
In the final year, pilot initiatives will be rolled out to participating institutions. Alongside the online module in research skills, the universities are considering the development and use of common contextual data when selecting students, a national online mentoring scheme, non-local summer schools, and information and support for teachers and advisers in schools and colleges.