Sir Ron Dearing has called for a report on how more working class students can be attracted to higher education.
The report, just completed by David Robertson, head of policy development at Liverpool John Moores University, says the answer is for further education colleges to offer more higher education courses. He said: "In my view, if there is a Labour government the only area where growth will resume in higher education is in institutions like colleges which can help widen participation."
Colleges mostly offer the kind of flexible courses disadvantaged students need due to work or family commitments, Professor Robertson said. They provide a non-threatening environment which is more likely to attract these kinds of students than traditional universities.
Professor Robertson is also urging Sir Ron's committee to recommend making students pay around 20 per cent of fees and taking away grants from all students, apart from those who can show financial problems would prevent them entering higher education.
He suggests up to 3,000 debt-exempt scholarships could be made available to students on a means-tested basis, at a cost of around Pounds 100 million. The scheme would be funded through savings made with the introduction of learning accounts, from which most students would borrow to support themselves and pay back through income-contingent loans.