An attempt to defuse the debate in Germany over tuition fees by the Gutersloh- based Centre for Higher Education Development provoked noisy student protests this month.
Students demonstrated their opposition to tuition fees to solve the funding crisis in higher education outside an international conference the centre organised.
Anke Brunn, North Rhine-Westphalia's higher education minister and a strong objector to fees, was not invited despite having published a report on fees. But representatives from Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, the United States and Switzerland who attended were clearly in favour of tuition fees.
Detlef Muller-Boling, who heads the centre, said the conference was organised to make a highly emotional debate more objective. He said the experience of guest countries did "not support fears that fees could act as a deterrent to taking up studies".
Bruce Chapman, consultant to Australia's former prime minister Paul Keating, said there had been an "across-the-board" 30 per cent increase in enrolment since HECS was introduced in 1989.
Hans-Uwe Ereichsen, president of Germany's rectors' conference, said he had reservations about applying the Australian model. "It would put an additional strain on the coming generation. The parent generation ought to foot the bill. Who is going to bridge the gap in the financial crisis?" The higher education budget deficit was DM4 billion (Pounds 1.7 billion) in 1993. If students paid DM2,000 tuition fees a year, this would bring in DM3.5 billion.
Zurich University rector Hans Heinrich Schmid said increases in tuition fees there had acted as a deterrent to students wanting to enrol mainly to take advantage of special benefits in health insurance and public transport.
Ms Brunn argues it was massive cuts in student support that contributed to a decline in the participation of working-class children, and, in particular, girls, in higher education over the past 14 years.
The proportion of student from higher income groups rose from 43 per cent in 1982, when grants were turned into loans, to 58 per cent in 1994. Enrolments from lower-income groups fell from 23 to 14 per cent. "Fees push achievement as a motive to study into the background and replace it by the readiness and the ability to suffer financial burdens despite uncertain job prospects," she says. "Why hasn't it occurred to high-salary advocates of tuition fees to voluntarily donate DM1,000 of their income to their old alma mater to show their solidarity with higher education?"