The working classes have lower IQs than those from wealthier backgrounds and should not be expected to win places at top universities, an academic has claimed.
Bruce Charlton, reader in evolutionary psychiatry at Newcastle University, suggested that the low numbers of working-class students at elite universities was the "natural outcome" of IQ differences between classes.
In a paper shown to the Times Higher Education magazine, Dr Charlton questioned the Government's drive to get more students from poor backgrounds into top universities like Oxford and Cambridge.
He said: "The UK Government has spent a great deal of time and effort in asserting that universities, especially Oxford and Cambridge, are unfairly excluding people from low social class backgrounds and privileging those from higher social classes.
"Yet in all this debate a simple and vital fact has been missed: higher social classes have a significantly higher average IQ than lower social classes."
The fact that so few students from poor families get into Oxbridge is not down to "prejudice" but "meritocracy", he said.
The Government criticised Dr Charlton's comments. Higher education minister Bill Rammell said: "These arguments have a definite tone of 'people should know their place'.
"There are young people with talent, ability and the potential to benefit from higher education who do not currently do so. That should concern us all."
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "It should come as little surprise that people who enjoy a more privileged upbringing have a better start in life.
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