Undergraduate tuition fees will not discourage poorer applicants and make the student body even more middle-class, according to a controversial report to be published in the autumn.
Evidence gathered by the centre for education and employment research at Brunel University will show that the bias of students in favour of social classes I and II is fixed when children are seven rather than 17 years old.
Misunderstanding this relationship has caused access initiatives largely to fail and the student body to be just as middle class as it was in the 1960s. The effects of fees would be minimal.
"Discussion about widening access to university for the working classes should be focusing on change at the very outset of education," said Alan Smithers, director of the centre.
The report, by deputy director Pamela Robinson, claims that, without changes at primary-school level, "it is unlikely that the existing stranglehold exerted by the professional classes can or will be broken".
The report finds that in 1960, 55 per cent of undergraduates were drawn from social class I and II. By 1995 the figure had risen to more than 60 per cent and during the same period the proportion of students from manual backgrounds fell from 28 per cent to per cent.