According to the University and College Union, increasing tuition fees to £5,000 a year would push England into the top spot in a ranking of 22 members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The analysis published today comes less than a fortnight before Lord Browne’s review panel is due to make its recommendations to the government.
It is widely expected to suggest raising the cap on fees, possibly to £7,000 a year or more.
According to the UCU analysis, in 2007-08 (the year under scrutiny), six of the 22 OECD countries studied did not charge fees, while the international average annual fee at public universities was £1,4.
England, which currently has a fee cap of £3,290 a year, was the fourth most expensive country, with only Iceland, Norway and the US charging more.
In the US, the average fee paid by students at public universities was $5,943 a year (£3,572), although students at private institutions paid significantly more – an average of $21,979, according to the union’s figures.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said: “England has much to be proud of when it comes to higher education. We are recognised as a leader both in research and teaching and continue to punch considerably above our weight. However, we do not want to be the most expensive country in the world for domestic students to do a degree.
“Students have been contributing more and more to the cost of a degree over recent years and now is the time to explore other options. If the forthcoming review of university funding by Lord Browne just lists ways to squeeze more money out of students and their families, then it will have spectacularly failed its remit.”
She urged Lord Browne and the government to consider “taxing big business for the substantial benefits it gains from a plentiful supply of graduates, and using that money to expand, rather than reduce, opportunity to study”.
The figures used in the UCU analysis were taken from the recent OECD publication Education at a Glance 2010.