The University of Sheffield is among a group of elite institutions told to double the number of disadvantaged students they take each year.
Admissions watchdog the Office for Fair Access wants to see the number of poorer students reach 40,000 in the next five years and is urging universities in the Russell Group – of which Sheffield is one – to do more to broaden their intake.
The highest number of students from poorer backgrounds went to university in 2011 when a record 22,000 attended, yet middle-class students are still seven times more likely to go to a top university than their poorer peers.
James Busson, head of outreach and widening participation at the University of Sheffield, said: “At the University of Sheffield we are extremely proud of our strong record of attracting students from under-represented backgrounds and supporting them throughout their studies.
“We work with thousands of school and college pupils across the city and the wider region each year to ensure that all students, regardless of their background, understand the value of a university degree and are given support to achieve their academic potential.
“Our extensive programme of outreach projects and activities, which include the Sheffield Outreach Access to Medicine Scheme and the Access to Dental Occupations – Practice and Tutoring initiative, shows our continued commitment to helping individuals progress to higher education regardless of their background.”
The university has announced its Equal Access campaign, which will see two asylum seekers each year provided with full fee waivers for any undergraduate course and a £10,000 bursary.
Dr Wendy Piatt, director general and chief executive of the Russell Group, said its universities invest a huge amount of time, effort and resources and developing pioneering schemes to help close the access gap.