The higher education minister Margaret Hodge has done a u-turn on the idea of setting targets to get poorer students into university.
A few hours after saying she wanted to impose targets on the number of poorer children going into higher education, she climbed down, saying such a target would be "inappropriate".
Although the government is committed to widening access to university, it is thought the Education Secretary Charles Clarke is against the idea of further targets.
Currently, 48% of young people from the top three
social classes go to university, compared to 18% of those from the bottom three.
In an interview with The Guardian newspaper at the end of an official visit to China, Mrs Hodge said: "I am going to do a target on closing the gap.
"I'm actually going to
set a target - where we want to get to by 2010."
She added that she thought it would take a few months to decide what the target would be and other details.
An overall target would be inappropriate and we have not plans to
introduce one here
Margaret Hodge, higher education minister
But later, the Department for Education and Skills issued a statement changing Mrs Hodge's line.
The minister was quoted as saying more needed to be done to hunt out the brightest talent from all
backgrounds - but that both government and universities had a part to play.
"But this is not an arbitrary or uniform approach. We want to work with
universities, helping them find the best way for schools, individuals and
institutions to widen access," she said.
"Approaches will certainly differ between institutions and between courses.
"That is why an overall target would be inappropriate and we have not plans to
The government continues to face opposition over its plans to allow universities to raise top-up fees.
Education Secretary Charles Clarke is expected to face protestors when he visits Wolverhampton University on Tuesday.