Top universities are being encouraged to widen access
Cambridge University may start offering foundation courses for pupils whose A-level grades are not quite good enough for admission to the colleges.
The university is keen to give a second chance to "if only" students who have the potential, if not the right grades or subject combination, to study there.
Courses could run at the university or in local colleges.
Earlier this month the university's vice-chancellor criticised the pressure to admit more pupils from poorer homes.
Professor Alison Richard said universities were there to educate and lead research and not act as "engines for promoting social justice" on behalf of the government.
But Dr Geoff Parks, director of admissions for the Cambridge colleges, insisted the university - including its vice-chancellor - was committed to widening participation and would be "doing it anyway", with or without government pressure.
Dr Parks said Cambridge was keen to admit pupils who had "raw academic ability" but had made the wrong A-level subject choices or had slipped a grade.
"There are students you see with great potential and you think 'if only' they had had better teaching they could get higher grades or 'if only' they had studied different subjects then they would be a very competitive candidate."
The foundation course idea is one of a range of measures being considered by the university to help widen access to the colleges.
With the help of a £4m alumnus donation, the university has set up a new post to oversee undergraduate recruitment.
Former head of the admissions and outreach office at the University of East Anglia, Jon Beard, will become Cambridge University's new director of undergraduate recruitment.
"The University of Cambridge is one of the best institutions in the world and I'm relishing the opportunity to encourage those who have the talent to exploit their full potential in such an environment," said Mr Beard.
"As a state school student who very nearly didn't go to university at all, I understand some of the reasons why others never apply."