DURHAM University has been accused of introducing quotas for admitting privately educated students, but says it is trying to attract more local school-leavers.

Reports at the weekend claimed Durham University had set targets to reduce the number of independent school-leavers on particular courses.

The report said Durham wanted privately educated students making up a quarter of those on its law course, 32 per cent on its English course and 38 per cent studying history.

There were also claims the university wanted to reduce its overall intake of independent pupils by more than a fifth next year.

The university has denied the claims, which were made following an investigation by The Sunday Times.

The university's said its admissions policy rested on welcoming excellent students from all backgrounds and did not discriminate on any other account.

A spokeswoman for the university said: "Selection is based on the quality of the student and we have no intention of reducing our very high entrance standards.

"In some instances the entry qualifications will be wider than A-Levels, notably in medicine, and in such instances the process will be open and transparent.

"The purpose will be to select those with a particular aptitude for the subject, and will not discriminate, nor exclude those from independent or state schools."

The university spokeswoman said the government required them to consider increasing the number of students from state schools.

She said the university was doing that by linking with local schools to increase the number of applications.

She said: "This will inevitably increase the competition if more students apply.

"However, we will not be introducing quotas. Our standards will not be compromised."

The Government wants to increase the number of students entering university and encourage universities to recruit more from low-performing state schools.

The incentive of extra cash back is expected to be announced by the Higher Education Funding Council soon.

Universities which receive £280 for each student from areas with a low take-up of higher education are expected to see that rise to £1,200 from September.

The university said it had nearly 1,000 students from backgrounds with little or no tradition of higher education, out of its 11,000 full-time and 1,500 part-time students.