The Government this week offered a "guarantee" that every pupil with the potential to achieve in higher education will get a comprehensive package of assistance to help them attend university.
By 2012, every pupil from a low-income background who is "roughly in the top 50 per cent of performers" should receive an early taste of higher education, attend a school with structural links to a university and get regular mentoring, says a White Paper on social mobility.
Information, advice and guidance about higher education in schools will be "significantly improved", and £1 million will go to National Challenge schools to fund a higher education experience for Key Stage 3 pupils.
The number of career development loans, which can fund study at university or college, will treble, allowing 45,000 people to apply for loans of up to £10,000 in 2010-11.
The series of measures announced in the paper, New Opportunities: Fair Chances for the Future, follow research indicating that children in Britain are less likely to move up the social ladder than those in other developed countries.
Of those who come in the top 20 per cent of test results at age 11, young people from low-income backgrounds are about half as likely to attend university as those from a better-off background, it says.
"We will identify young people from low-income backgrounds with the potential to achieve at university early, and ensure they receive a package of structured assistance across their time at secondary school.
"This will be as comprehensive as that often received by young people attending the best schools and colleges with high rates of progression to higher education and will include support to attend the most selective institutions," the paper says.
The Government also wants its partnership of research-intensive universities collaborating on widening participation strategies, announced last year, to grow to include 15 to 20 institutions and involve 10,000 students a year.
"Participating universities will also recognise each other's compact schemes," according to the paper.
It promises that it will become easier to move on to university after an apprenticeship because apprenticeship frameworks will be incorporated into the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service points system by 2010.
David Lammy, the Higher Education Minister, said: "There's quite a lot of (widening participation) activity going on - this is our attempt to ensure that we have got really consistent practice across the country.
"We have made progress ... but we have to move more quickly and with more urgency."
SECTOR FEARS THAT STATE-FUNDED INTERNSHIPS COULD EXACERBATE GRADUATE JOBLESSNESS
Government plans to introduce a "national internship" scheme to provide state-funded positions for graduates struggling to find jobs met with a cool response this week.
The proposals for state-funded graduate internships with a number of major employers were announced in response to fears that graduates will be unable to find work amid the economic downturn.
But concern was expressed this week that employers might use internships as a cheap alternative to offering jobs to graduates, thus exacerbating the problem.
"If some companies saw this as a cheap alternative option, they would grab this and take the government money and then not recruit the graduate they would have done in the first place then it would be self-defeating," a business representative involved in higher education warned.
The proposal emerged after a meeting between six employers - including Barclays and Microsoft - and the Government at the end of 2008, but a formal paper on the issue is yet to be drafted and details remain sketchy.
"While it's an interesting idea that certainly needs to be developed, we're a long way from getting employers to sign up to this," the representative said.
The idea has also attracted criticism from academics. Sue Haile, lecturer in chemical engineering at Newcastle University, said in a letter to The Daily Telegraph this week: "How inventive of our Government ... My postgraduates have followed that path for 14 years as part of their one-year degree.
"Unfortunately, this same Government has now withdrawn our funding."