A majority of students support the government's decision to defer payment of tuition fees until after graduation, but most balk at the £3,000-a-year charges proposed by ministers, according to preliminary findings from a survey of Kent University students.
The survey, by Kent sociologist David Wright, found that 66 per cent of the 200 student respondents thought the government right to propose a graduate repayment system for tuition fees in its January white paper.
But 81 per cent said that they would not be willing to pay more than £2,000 a year for courses, just £900 more than they do presently and less than the £3,000 universities will be able to charge from 2006 under the white paper proposals.
Just 10 per cent said they would be willing to pay up to £3,000 and only 2 per cent would pay up to £5,000 a year, the level recommended by the Commons education and skills select committee in last week's report on the white paper.
Dr Wright, whose survey is not official, said: "On the whole, students seem to think that fees will have to be charged, but they do not want to pay too much.
"The government's policy was likely, therefore, to deter the very type of student that they want to attract into higher education."
Dr Wight's survey showed that:
* 56 per cent of respondents would be willing to pay between £0 and £1,000 a year
* 25 per cent would pay between £1,001 and £2,000
* 10 per cent between £2,001 and £3,000
* 2 per cent between £3,001 and £5,000
* 1 per cent between £5,001 and £10,000
* 1 per cent more than £10,000.
Seven out of 10 of the respondents said they would have been deterred from going to university by the prospect of graduate debts of more than £21,000, which is the upper limit of debt predicted by government after top-up fees are introduced.
More than half of respondents were against the government's plan to increase higher education numbers to meet its 50 per cent participation target by 2010.
Respondents said they were worried that expansion would lead to a lowering of standards and a reduction in the value of a degree.
A significant number of respondents agreed that there was a greater need for more skilled craftsmen and women rather than graduates.