Universities Minister David Willetts said the number of white working-class males applying to universities has fallen dramatically and more must be done to encourage enrollment within this demographic, The Daily Telegraph reported Thursday.
Willetts said the Office for Fair Access, the government's university access watchdog, could "look at a range of disadvantaged groups -- social class and ethnicity, for instance -- when it comes to access agreements, so I don't see why they couldn't look at white, working-class boys."
The move may be controversial and likely will raise red flags among independent schools over discrimination against middle-class students, the report said.
William Richardson, general-secretary of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents 250 independent schools, said the organization's response would depend on how universities handled situations in which two candidates were equally qualified.
"We wouldn't expect middle-class girls' applications to be turned down in favor of working-class boys," Richardson told the Telegraph. "Each application should be looked at individually."
Willetts, in a commentary published by The Independent, said there were "more women who enter university each year than there are men who submit a [university application] form."
The shift represented "the culmination of a decades-old trend in our education system which seems to make it harder for boys and men to face down the obstacles in the way of learning," he said, noting it was a challenge "for all policy-makers and all parties."
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said there was no change in policy.