The government has set Steven Schwartz, vice-chancellor of Brunel University, the task of identifying the relative merits of university applicants.
Professor Schwartz and his team, which has yet to be appointed, will identify principles that inform good practice in admissions. It would be up to universities to choose how to adopt these principles - but those that wanted to charge higher tuition fees would have to demonstrate that they subscribed to them.
Professor Schwartz said: "We are looking at merit broadly defined. Clearly, performance at school is the best predictor but there are others, such as motivation. Students from unusual backgrounds should not have the cards stacked against them."
The team will look at whether success at degree level can be predicted by factors other than success at A level.
In the consultation document, the Department for Education and Skills suggests that "admissions criteria should be based on merit reflecting both attainment and potential". It also refers to the Universities UK Fair Enough report, published earlier this year. The report suggests that university entry qualifications should shift away from exam results to personal characteristics.
Transparency will be needed as well as merit. Universities will be encouraged to tell applicants how they select.
Finally, university admissions officers will have to undergo training to ensure that their treatment of applicants is consistent.