The survey of more than 12,500 final-year undergraduates at 24 English universities by High Fliers Research comes ahead of the trebling of the tuition fee cap to £9,000 in 2012.
Some 51 per cent of respondents said they would have been put off taking a degree if they had faced fees of that level, while one in three said they would have chosen not to attend university if fees had been set at £6,000, according to the report published on April.
Students at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford were the least concerned about fees, with just per cent and 25 per cent respectively saying they would not have gone to university if their fees had been set at £9,000.
At the other end of the scale, 67 per cent of the 585 final-year students at Loughborough University who were surveyed said they would have been put off.
Loughborough – which has one of the best records nationally in student satisfaction surveys – was followed by the University of Sheffield (66 per cent), Lancaster University and the University of Liverpool (both 65 per cent).
The poll also found that students who went to state schools were much more likely to be put off attending university by high fees (59 per cent) than those who were privately educated (39 per cent).
Other groups found to be at particularly high risk of being dissuaded on grounds of cost included female students (56 per cent said they would not have gone to university if fees were £9,000 a year), those with three B grades or less at A level (63 per cent), those studying languages (57 per cent) or arts and humanities subjects (54 per cent), and those from the north of England (58 per cent in the North West, 51 per cent in the North East).
The findings are detailed in the High Fliers Research report, University Tuition Fees and the Graduates of 2011. The survey was carried out among students at institutions including the universities of Aston, Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Loughborough, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton, Warwick and York.
Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, said: “Today’s university students are used to contributing to the cost of their education with tuition fees of up to £3,290 a year in England – and those graduating this summer are particularly well placed to understand the value of a degree in the graduate employment market.
“But our research shows very clearly that many of the top university undergraduates, particularly those originally from state schools or colleges, would have been put off doing a degree if their tuition fees had been £9,000 a year – the level that most leading institutions are expecting to charge in future.
“This highlights the invidious position that universities have been put in by the government’s decision to cut funding for undergraduate teaching from 2012 and replace it with substantially higher student tuition fees.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “Students should not be worried about fees because the evidence shows that the generosity of grants and loans compensates for them. Our student loans system will be more generous.
“Students won't start repaying their loans until their earnings reach £21,000, up from the £15,000 threshold for today's graduates.”