The prestigious Institut d'Etudes Politiques (Sciences Po) plans to abolish fees for students from poor families and to quadruple them for the wealthiest in the cause of equal opportunity.
The move has been condemned by majority student union Union Nationale des Etudiants de France as a "renunciation of public-service education and of democratising higher education".
Plans to introduce means-tested fees in October 2004 result from an inquiry set up under economist Jean-Paul Fitoussi. The measures will increase the school's annual budget of €61 million (£42 million) by €5 million, to be ploughed back into student grants and services.
Four-fifths of Sciences Po's nearly 6,000 students pay annual fees of €1,050 (£730), while the rest are exempted because of low parental income. Under the new system, students would pay up to €4,000.
Families earning less than €4,166 a month would pay nothing, while those on more than €10,400 - 2.5 per cent of the French population but 29 per cent of Sciences Po families - would pay the full fee.
UNEF, whose members withdrew from the commission at the end of May, said it was "scandalous" that the institute had unilaterally announced completion of the inquiry's work.