Roughly 15,000 young homeless people have the potential to benefit from higher education. But they see it as "a foreign country", with the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service as "a formidable border control".
A government-supported working group has been set up to address the financial and social barriers, communications shortfalls and university apathy identified in the Foyer Federation's recent report, The Final Hurdle, Access to Higher Education for Young Homeless People.
Vice-chancellors, funding council chiefs, students and the Department for Education and Employment are working with the Foyer Federation, a network of homeless hostels and support groups.
Research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 young homeless had the potential to benefit from higher education, with about 10 per cent of young homeless having five or more GCSEs at grade C or above. But many who wished to go to higher education faced problems. Finance was the main concern. Most received no financial support from parents, whom they had left, and did not have access to free accommodation during vacations.
Carolyn Hayman, chief executive of the Foyer Foundation, said: "Imagine contemplating going to university with nowhere to spend vacations, no parental subsidy and no financial safety net."
Costs and fear of debt were identified as the two biggest obstacles. Foyer residents also risk losing their housing benefit if they study.
It is understood that the working group hopes to persuade the DFEE to rethink the policy of using means-tests based on parental income to determine the size of tuition fee, a "widespread problem" for homeless people.
It hopes to encourage the DFEE to examine proposals to allow free accommodation for homeless people during the long vacation, an entitlement only available to young students leaving care.
The working group is also urging the Higher Education Funding Council for England to ensure that the premium funding it gives to universities for recruiting students whose disadvantaged backgrounds are deduced from postcodes, includes homeless people.
The working group said that the postcodes of Foyer hostels should automatically be eligible for the access premium.