Accusations of elitism at Cambridge and Oxford resurfaced this week as the latest figures revealed that, proportionately, white public school boys still stand a far better chance than any other group of gaining places.
Statistics produced by Cambridge last Friday show that 35 per cent of those who applied from public schools were successful in gaining places compared with per cent of state school pupils who applied.
At Cambridge, 699 former public school boys were accepted this year compared with 637 women from fee-paying schools. The proportion of women starting Cambridge in all groups this October had increased to 48 per cent from 45 per cent last year.
Just over 80 per cent of home applications were from people classing themselves as white, and they gained 84 per cent of home application places.
This compares with 333 applications (3.5 per cent of home applications) from people of Indian origin, of whom 97 (3.4 per cent of home acceptances) gained places. There were 65 applications (0.6 per cent of home applications) from black people of African origin, of whom six gained places (0.2 per cent of home acceptances).
At Oxford, 41 per cent of public school pupils applying gained places. This compares with a 35 per cent success rate for state school applicants. The proportion of men to women was the same as at Cambridge - 52 to 48 per cent.
Maggie Woodrow, executive director of the European Access Network, based at Westminster University, said: "If someone arrived from another planet they would conclude that talent resided disproportionately in white public school pupils. That is what the statistics tell us.
"Cambridge and Oxford are publicly funded higher education institutions, which, by their admissions policies, are effectively acting in the interests of a particular social class. I would like to see some kind of financial sanction imposed on such institutions," she said.
Gordon Marsden, Labour MP for Blackpool South and a member of the education select committee, which will produce a report on university access early in the new year, said: "The figures show that this is not only a problem at Oxford. It is one that is common to Cambridge and, indeed, most other top universities."
Both Cambridge and Oxford pointed out that state school pupils gained the majority of home undergraduate places - there was an approximate 52 per cent to 48 per cent split at both.
But the figures belie the fact that Cambridge received more than 40 per cent more applications from state school pupils than from private school hopefuls. There were more than a quarter more state school pupil applications to Oxford. These application figures contradict arguments that the problem is caused by a lack of state school applicants.
And, while actual numbers of first-year undergraduates are small, there are also large variations between Cambridge college intakes this year. At Christ's College, 55 per cent of applications were from state school pupils but only 37 per cent were successful. At Corpus Christi, 49 per cent of applications were from state schools, but only 39 per cent were successful. At Magdalen, 42 per cent of applications were from state school pupils, of which only 36 per cent were successful.
Only at Girton and at Gonville and Caius did the proportion of state school applicants match the number of acceptances, at 61 and 48 per cent respectively.
Ann Newbould, head of the Cambridge Intercollegiate Applications Office, said: "The issue is that the more successful we are in attracting maintained school candidates, the more they are likely to to be rejected. Independent school candidates tend to be a more cohesive group with better preparation."
A spokesman for Oxford said: "Our selection process is totally fair and open, identifying potential candidates whatever their social or educational background. It is only by doing this that we will be able to retain our reputation as a world-class university."
Education secretary David Blunkett has praised research-led institutions, including Oxford and Cambridge, for their initiatives to widen participation and has said he hopes they can continue to ensure more suitably qualified state pupils get the chance to go to university.