Much more money will be needed if the government is to meet its manifesto pledge that half of young people should experience higher education by 2010, according to funding chiefs.
"Significant investment" is needed to achieve the "ambitious goal" of 50 per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds "to have the opportunity to benefit from higher education", according to the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Learning and Skills Council.
"We have invested only modest amounts in the regional widening participation projects, but Hefce and the LSC believe that a very substantial increase in investment between the two organisations will be needed to enable us to meet these aims and priorities.
"We believe that the government's 50 per cent participation target cannot be met without a concerted collaborative effort between higher education institutions, further education and training providers and schools," states a consultation paper published by Hefce and the LSC.
Under the proposals outlined in the paper, the funding bodies intend to identify a progression rate for each school and to ask universities and further education colleges to jointly set a target based on the schools in their region.
They plan to model the contribution each region would need to make collectively to meet the 50 per cent target nationally.
On current trends, a 50 per cent participation rate target is too high to be met by increasing achievements at A level or by more people studying and completing advanced-level vocational qualifications.
While schools and colleges need to implement reforms, universities should lend a hand, according to the consultation paper.
"Higher education institutions have long recognised that the schools, further education and higher education sectors are all interconnected and interdependent: none can succeed in isolation from the others. If institutions can help give young people in schools and further education an awareness and understanding of higher education, and an expectation that they will go on to higher education as a means of pursuing their career and life aspirations, that can be a powerful motivator," it states.
The paper proposes that institutions should appoint dedicated staff to work with schools and colleges and draw up regional plans for activities to encourage participation in higher education through summer schools, mentoring and shadowing.
Quality standards must be raised in further education, and there should be incentives for workplace learning with progression into higher education. A national programme of research to identify approaches to overcoming participation barriers would also be implemented under the proposals.
Responses are due by March 22.