The government would be unwise to ignore the warning from the British Council that its top-up fees policy may deter students from the European Union from considering a British university. Any perception that the tuition fees gap between the UK and US is narrowing is an obvious handicap in the intensely competitive international student market.
The challenge, for the government as well as the council, is to explain that the shift from upfront fees to repayment after graduation increases rather than diminishes the attractiveness of a UK university education.
There is, though, a further problem - how to recover fees from EU students who leave the UK to work. New Zealand, for instance, is already plagued with large numbers of graduates who have fled to work overseas with student debts unpaid. Its approach to the Inland Revenue to help recover the debts through the UK tax system got a dusty answer. Imagine the response of the tax authorities in Greece or Italy if the UK made a similar request.
But that is a technical issue and, as Peter Lampl says elsewhere on this page, the variable fees option is the only game in town. Without that financial lifeline, unremitting underfunding will inevitably dilute the international reputation for quality on which UK higher education is marketed. The consequence would be an inevitable loss of students from the EU and - vitally - students from elsewhere who can be charged the full overseas fees.