Universities should treat white, working class boys as an ethnic minority, according to the minister responsible for higher education.
Senior Tory David Willetts wants them viewed as a disadvantaged group after a drastic fall in the number of university applications by men.
This would mean universities having to improve access for young white men before they are given the go-ahead to charge higher fees.
Mr Willetts said the Office for Fair Access (Offa), the university access watchdog, already looked at disadvantaged groups "when it comes to access agreements".
"I don't see why they couldn't look at white, working-class boys," he told The Independent.
The minister plans to suggest the inclusion of white, working class boys as a target group for recruitment in the access agreements to Offa director Professor Les Ebdon.
Figures from last autumn's intake show a 54,000 drop in applications by men, 13% down on 2011 and four times higher than the fall among women, according to The Independent.
Ucas data reveals just 30% of male school leavers applied to go to university in 2012, compared to 40% of female school leavers.
Mr Willetts said this was "the culmination of a decades-old trend in our education system which seems to make it harder for boys and men to face down the obstacles in the way of learning."
He added: "I do worry about what looks like increasing under-performance by young men."
Mr Willetts stressed that he wanted to protect universities' rights to select students but also to make sure that white working class boys had every opportunity for a fair shot at a place.
"This is a long-standing social problem in Britain in which the performance of boys has increasingly fallen behind the performance of girls in education," he told Sky News.
"This is one of the under-represented groups so it is absolutely correct for universities to use some of the extra funding they have got to focus on these groups and reach out to them."
Dr Wendy Platt, director general of the Russell Group, which represents 24 top universities, said: "Universities cannot solve this problem alone.
"The root causes of the under-representation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are under-achievement at school and poor advice on the best choices of A-level subjects and university degree course."