Increased funding for students announced by the government will not benefit the least well off, a financial think-tank has claimed.
Students from families earning up to £25,000 will get a full grant
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says that changes to grants will help students from families earning more than £17,500.
But to help the poorest families into higher education, money should be put into improving schools, the IFS says.
The government wants to widen participation in higher education.
Earlier this month, John Denham, Secretary of the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, announced extra funds - so that students whose families earned less than £25,000 a year could get a full grant.
But analysing the impact of the funding changes, the IFS says that this will not mean extra assistance for students from the poorest families, earning less than £17,500.
And it argues that "it would probably be better to spend money trying to further improve school results rather than increasing subsidies for those who do make it to university".
The IFS says that the key to getting more equality of access into higher education is to get more pupils from poorer families to stay on to take A-levels. When children stay in education until 18, the gap in going to university between rich and poor is sharply narrowed, says the IFS.
"The most effective way of increasing participation in higher education among children from poorer socio-economic backgrounds is to improve their academic results in school," says researcher Haroon Chowdry.
"This is not an easy task, but taxpayer resources would be better utilised trying to solve this continuing problem."
But the IFS says that for students whose families earn more than £17,500, the changes will bring benefits. And that graduates will gain £850 from loan repayment holidays.
But it adds that "people who do not participate in higher education will not benefit from the reforms, but will have to help finance them through the taxes they pay".