Universities should fund poor bright teenagers to help them to stay in school and achieve good results, the Government's social mobility tsar has said.
Alan Milburn said there was a "good case" for universities to provide financial support to help them achieve the grades they need to apply for degree courses.
The former Labour minister called for all institutions to give guaranteed interviews and lower A-level offers to disadvantaged sixth-formers, and he said they should sign up to a pledge to take a candidate's background into account when offering places.
Leading university groups reacted angrily to the proposals, with one saying higher education should not be made to foot the bill for scrapped Government funding schemes.
In a Government-commissioned report on widening access to higher education, Mr Milburn condemned the controversial decision to scrap the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and called on universities to take responsibility for replacing it. The EMA, a weekly £30 payment for students with household incomes of less than £20,817 a year, was scrapped last year by Education Secretary Michael Gove, who decided it was badly targeted.
Mr Milburn said: "Given the abolition of the EMA and the inadequacies of its replacement, there is a good case for universities helping to provide financial support to promising disadvantaged pupils so they can achieve the necessary exam results to be able to successfully apply to higher education."
The new report said that universities must "redouble their efforts" to ensure that places were open to all of those with talent and potential. He called on the sector to do more to help students while they were still at school, to help them get the grades they needed to secure a degree place.
Universities should offer guaranteed interviews, and, where appropriate, lower offers to less-advantaged pupils in the schools that they supported, he said. And there should also be guaranteed interviews to students who successfully completed university preparation courses, like summer schools.
Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the UK's top universities said: "Our universities already want to make sure they are not overlooking the brightest and the best and like Alan Milburn we recognise that poorer students are not as well represented as their middle class peers.
"But there is no simple solution to this complex problem and offering financial incentives to take students from disadvantaged backgrounds fails to address the root cause of the problem and may have unintended consequences."