STUDENTS from poor backgrounds should be given a place at Scottish universities with lower grades than their middle class counterparts, a major report has recommended.

The final report of the Commission on Widening Access said the separate admissions system for disadvantaged pupils - to be in place by 2019 - should reflect the minimum academic standards required to successfully complete a degree course.

Currently, the school qualifications required tend to be set at the highest possible level to reflect the competition for places from well-qualified applicants.

Overall the commission, which was set up last year by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, made 34 recommendations including a series of staggered targets to ensure that by by 2030 students from the poorest 20 per cent of postcodes made up 20 per cent of university entrants.

Angela Constance, the Education Secretary, said the Scottish Government would immediately accept the commission’s recommended targets.

She said: "Agreeing to take these forward leaves no-one in any doubt that this government is determined to make urgent progress on achieving our ambition of equal access."

The report also recommended the creation of a new Commissioner for Fair Access to drive progress across the country and establish what schemes were working best.

It called on the Scottish Funding Council to be more robust in the setting of targets and penalties for individual universities and tasked it with using additional funding to incentivise institutions to develop schemes that had the biggest impact.

There was also a call for children who have grown up in care to be guaranteed a place at university if they meet the new minimum entry requirements.

However, by far the most controversial suggestion was the recommendation that a two-tier entry system be set up.

Although some universities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh already operate admissions schemes which allow some pupils in with lower grades the move represents a much more fundamental shift for all institutions.

The consequence is that it will displace middle class students with higher grades unless the Scottish Government funds an expansion of higher education places.

Dame Ruth Silver, the chair of the commission, said the proposal was not unfair and would lead to a fundamental rebalancing of equity in Scottish society.

She said: "Advantage is just as entrenched in Scotland as disadvantage and this is about a rebalancing of fairness so that lots of people get into university from all walks of life."

However, Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservative Party, warned the "controversial" report would create difficulties.

She said: "Some students will be required to meet minimum entry requirements to guarantee a place, but other students will be required to meet a higher bar of entry.

"This is bound to lead to difficulties for universities and it will certainly put added pressure on higher education funding since more places will have to be made available if no student is to be squeezed out."

Professor Sir Pete Downes, convener of Universities Scotland, said: "Some recommendations, including those that focus on minimum entry requirements and guaranteed places, are going to be challenging for universities and for the Scottish Government, but we will not shy away from that as we take the time to consider the recommendations in depth."

Although numbers of access students have improved in recent years just 1,335 school-leavers from the poorest 20 per cent of households went to university in Scotland in 2013/14 compared to 5,520 from the richest 20 per cent of communities.

In universities such as St Andrews, Aberdeen and Edinburgh less than than five per cent of their intake comes from the poorest communities.