Funding chiefs estimate that universities will have to recruit at least 300,000 more students costing well over £1 billion to reach the government's 50 per cent participation target by 2010.
Sir Howard Newby, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said that wealthier students may have to pay more towards the additional costs of the expansion. He stressed he was speaking in a personal capacity as Hefce had no policy on student support.
Sir Howard, who gave evidence to the education and skills select committee on Monday, said that expansion would be achieved only by recruiting more people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
He said this required investment in 14 to 19-year-old education but that this should not be at the expense of higher education.
He said he was disappointed that chancellor Gordon Brown had not said more about higher education in his pre-budget statement two weeks ago.
"Resources are very tight and, of course, will become more so if the predicted expansion... is not carried out in a way in which full costs are met," he said.
"Those who can afford to contribute more may have to share some of those additional costs. I feel very strongly that that additional cost must be met otherwise we are going to jeopardise quality."
Sir Howard told MPs that the 300,000 extra students could be an underestimate and that much would depend on these students' modes of study. He expected 90 per cent of this increase would have to be in the 18 to 21 age group.
Sir Howard said government had to continue investing more in higher education as there was a growing need for people with graduate skills.
But he said that the key to reaching the higher education expansion target was to increase the numbers of people staying in education beyond 16. He said that a greater effort had to be made in managing the higher education supply chain in the 14 to 19-year-old age group.
"If these students are not coming through at 18, adequately prepared and with the right kind of qualifications, then we are not going to meet this target," Sir Howard said. He proposed a return to the idea of "civic universities", playing a more active role in building local partnerships with schools and colleges.