Edinburgh University is to combat its elitist image with an institution-wide admissions policy that will take into account more than just examination results.
Edinburgh has pledged to make its admissions system fairer to applicants from all backgrounds from 2004. It will introduce a minimum threshold of four B passes at Higher level or three at A level.
The process will also take into account personal qualities and social background.
All else being equal after this process, the university will award extra points to those whose education has been seriously disrupted; those who are the first in their family to go into higher education; those from schools with little or no tradition of sending pupils to university; Scottish applicants, particularly from the local area; mature applicants from underrepresented groups; and applicants with disabilities.
Vice-principal Gordon Kirk, convener of the admissions strategy group whose proposals were this week endorsed by the university court, said: "It's not a matter of compromising standards. The motto is excellence without elitism or exclusiveness."
There was a strong body of evidence that potential could not be adequately judged solely by school exam results, Professor Kirk said.
Edinburgh has been making efforts to widen access, but its record remains poor. Some 37 per cent of its entrants are from independent schools, which educate 7 per cent of the school population.
The Scottish Conservatives have condemned Edinburgh's move as "dangerous".
Education spokesman Brian Monteith said: "Positive discrimination in favour of students from disadvantaged backgrounds is just as ethically wrong as so-called elitist discrimination would be.
"Students should be admitted to university on merit, and no account should be taken of their background."
But David Rendel, the Liberal Democrats' higher education spokesman, said:
"Individual circumstances must be taken into account when deciding which young people have the merit and potential to benefit from university."