Universities have been told they must work more closely with schools in poor areas to boost the numbers of disadvantaged teenagers studying for a degree.
New Government guidance says that institutions should be collaborating with schools to raise the aspirations of children and inspire them to go on to higher education.
It also says that recruiting more white working-class boys and cutting the high drop-out rates for black students should be key priorities for universities.
The new guidance comes after Prime Minister David Cameron warned educational institutions, the police, the military and the courts they were all the focus of a new effort to tackle social inequality, suggesting it might be fuelled by ''ingrained, institutional and insidious'' racism.
Mr Cameron announced there would be a new requirement for universities to publish data on applicants' backgrounds and said he wants the proportion of university entrants from poorer backgrounds double by 2020 from 2009 levels.
He also said that the number of university students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds should increase by 20% by 2020.
Under the new guidance, universities will be expected to build partnerships with schools to target the neighbourhoods where low numbers of children go on to study for a degree, as well as offering better support to students with learning difficulties.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson said: "Going to university opens doors to a brighter future, but too many students are still missing out. We are asking universities to go further and faster than ever before, especially the most selective institutions.
"This guidance for the first time identifies the groups of students where most attention is needed, such as white boys from the poorest homes and students with specific learning difficulties. We want to see smarter spending from universities, with more outreach into neighbourhoods with low university entry rates and much deeper partnerships with local schools."
Last month, vice-chancellors' group Universities UK announced it was launching a new Social Mobility Advisory Group to give advice to government and support for English universities on improving access to higher education.
At the time, UUK chief Nicola Dandridge said: "Universities are committed to making higher education available to anyone who can benefit, regardless of their background.
"This has long been a priority for universities who invest considerable resource in addressing disadvantage. There are now 40% more students from disadvantaged backgrounds at university compared to 10 years ago. However, there is still much more that we can and must do."