Shadow Secretary of State for Universities David Willetts attacked the quality of some higher education in the UK at the Conservative Party conference this week.
Speaking at a Policy Exchange fringe meeting, he said students questioned the value for money of their degree courses.
"The biggest single issue in higher education is the quality of the student experience," he said.
He said private secondary schools provided 30 hours of teaching per week on a range of subjects for about £6,000 a year.
"Universities receive at least as much money per student and you have to ask, what is the educational experience they are getting?
They go to one seminar per week, or produce one essay per term, and sit in lectures with a hundred other students," said Mr Willetts.
While the Conservatives had moved in the "sensible direction" of accepting that tuition fees were here to stay, students and parents would only agree if the teaching at universities were seen as worthwhile, he said.
Mr Willetts also called for the education system at all levels to give students "fundamental skills" rather than responding to transient needs.
At the same meeting, Donald Clark, a board member of UFI, the organisation behind LearnDirect, accused universities of working to a 19th-century model.
"I know of no field of human endeavour that is more inefficient than the university system - it shuts down over the summer. We need a system so that students can learn at the pace they want to learn, not at the pace at which lecturers want to teach."