Many students are unable to cope when they get to university because they have been spoon-fed by state schools, a vice-chancellor has claimed.
Sir Anthony Seldon, of the University of Buckingham, suggested that state school pupils were not "given the freedom to learn" and to become independent.
Speaking at a Headmasters' and Headmistresses Conference (HMC) event in London, Sir Anthony, the former master of Wellington College, also told delegates that it was "deeply frightening" research had shown that 40 per cent of students were regular drug users.
He said: "You know about the rise in suicide, you know about the inability of many students to cope – how can they cope when they have been spoon-fed at their state schools, not given that freedom to learn, to organise their own time?"
Sir Anthony said that new university students were living away from home for the first time, having to organise themselves, and "the attitude of universities, the world over mostly, but not always, is that they fend for themselves – 'They are 18-year-olds, we are not going to infantilise them, they are going to cope.'"
These young people "need help to learn how to cope with autonomy", he added, suggesting that schools and universities could do more.
State school pupils 'learn independently'
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "We don't agree with Sir Anthony's comment that state schools 'spoon-feed' their students.
"This is not the case, and we are sure that our 19,000 members in both the state and independent sectors will be surprised and disappointed to hear his remarks.
"Students at state schools follow a rigorous academic curriculum and experience a range of sports, arts and enrichment activities to prepare them for life beyond school.
"They have to learn how to study independently, organise their time and be able to analyse and understand a wide range of texts in many subjects.
"It is to the credit of state schools that they continue to provide so many opportunities to their students despite a funding crisis caused by government underinvestment in education."