Plans announced last week to abandon free university tuition in Scotland have been attacked by critics, who warn that the introduction of a "graduate contribution" will encourage the government to withdraw state support for higher education.
The proposals have prompted unions to argue that employers - not students - should bear the financial burden, after university principals called for Scottish graduates to be forced to contribute to the cost of their education.
Universities Scotland, which represents university heads, claimed last week that graduate payments were now necessary for the Scottish academy to remain competitive in the wake of Lord Browne of Madingley's review in England, which has paved the way for a significant increase in tuition fees.
A report by the body, released last week, claims that "entrepreneurial funding sources" can no longer fill the funding gap expected to emerge in Scotland.
"We need urgently to work to build a political consensus about a fair model of graduate contribution that can be consistent with Scottish political values," said Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland.
But Davena Rankin, commercial manager at Glasgow Caledonian University, warned that introducing fees would "change the nature of the (Scottish) university campus".
Despite having previously raised fears that a funding gap would lead to a brain drain, Ms Rankin said graduate payments would simply encourage politicians to withdraw state support from universities.
She pointed to recent developments in England, where the bulk of any future rise in fees looks set to be matched by a reduction in teaching funding after the government's Comprehensive Spending Review.
"I think that tuition fees in England are substitutional and not additional, and overall funding is not going to rise," she said.
David Belsey, national officer for further and higher education at the Educational Institute of Scotland, said the time was right to "start talking about different models for student contributions", including a levy on employers.
Tony Axon, research officer at the University and College Union Scotland, echoed the UCU in England in calling for "big business" to be taxed in return for the "substantial benefits it gains from a plentiful supply of graduates".
The National Union of Students Scotland said it was willing to discuss a form of graduate contribution but warned that the introduction of a "price tag" could put off poorer students.
A Green Paper on university funding is expected later this month, but Universities Scotland said that legislation should be drafted immediately after the Scottish government elections in May 2011 to ensure that any change is implemented before the academic year 2012-13.