Pupils from the highest socioeconomic groups are seven times more likely to go on to higher education as those from the lowest.
Partnerships for Progression (P4P), a joint funding initiative between the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Learning and Skills Council, aims to raise the achievements, aspirations and motivation to enter higher education among students from age 13. It also wants to strengthen progression routes via the national vocational qualification level three from schools, further education providers and workplace learning.
Responses to the P4P consultation indicated that there was a need to raise awareness among staff; that employers needed to be involved; and that stable, long-term funding was needed.
The Association of Colleges stressed that further education colleges delivered 11 per cent of higher education but did not always find that universities were willing partners.
Lecturers' union Natfhe noted that as institutions competed for students, funding rewards for recruitment needed to be weighted towards collaborative activity based on regionally agreed targets.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said universities had done little to keep up with changes in schools, such as Curriculum 2000. He said there was a strong case for each university to have a relationship with its local schools and for the initiative to come from the university.
Partnerships take time to develop but many are already emerging. In Bristol, a partnership involving four universities, the youth service Connexions and Excellence Challenge for Bristol has been able to reach schools beyond those targeted.
An "opportunities prospectus" outlining activities for pupils aged between 11 and 19 has been sent to all schools in the area. As a result, earlier this year one school, which had not previously worked with a university, made contact with the University of the West of England.
A day-long event was organised for 40 pupils aged 14, chosen by the school on the basis of ability and of having no family history of higher education. Student ambassadors worked with the pupils all day. Then 50 parents joined their children and were taken on a tour.
The Lancashire Compact is a partnership involving the universities of Lancaster and Central Lancashire, and Edge Hill and St Martin's colleges. One project, Higher Education into Schools, involves the recruitment, training and placement of students as undergraduates in residence. Pupils are exposed to further and higher education through student placements, campus visits and summer schools.
Teri Sanderson, a student volunteer from the University of Central Lancashire, worked as a mentor at the youth inclusion programme for children temporarily excluded from school.
She organised a two-day graffiti art workshop that produced ten large canvases that were exhibited at the university gallery.