By Angela Harrison
BBC News Online education staff
An array of opponents is lining up against the government's plans to increase university tuition fees.
Students rallied against top-ups last month
Students are joined by opposition politicians and scores of Labour back-benchers.
Some teachers' and lecturers' unions are also critical of the plans, which they say will deter students from poorer families from going to university.
Political commentators say the government could face a tough battle to get the changes through parliament.
As many as 100 Labour backbenchers are reported to be against the plans.
The former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has added his criticism, describing the plans as "deeply offensive".
"You start to get a market in higher education. That seems to me to be totally contrary to everything this government is trying to achieve - a fairer more egalitarian society - and is deeply offensive," he said.
The plans have crucial support from one key area - the chief executives of universities - who as a group are represented by Universities UK.
They say universities are severely under-funded and will be unable to deliver on the government's plans to increase the proportion of young people in education unless they get a substantial cash injection.
Universities UK says increasing tuition fees is the best available option because it is politically unlikely that more money would be raised for universities from tax-payers.
Eric Thomas, the Vice-Chancellor of Bristol University, said universities were desperately short of money.
"The income we currently get doesn't cover the cost of that education.
"We need increased income to sustain the quality of that education," he said.
Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at Warwick University, is in favour of the fees - and says they should be nearer to £7,000 a year, not £3,000.
"It is right that students should pay because they get an enormous benefit from doing a degree.
"About £450,000 in a life-time's income is our best estimate of the sum you get for doing a degree in Britain."
The government says it wants half of the eligible population to be in higher education by 2010, compared to the current level of 40%.
Students' leaders say the changes and the fear of debt will deter students from poorer families.
"I might not have been able to come"
After the changes were confirmed in the Queen's Speech, Mandy Telford, the president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: "Her Majesty spoke of 'greater opportunity' for students but the top-up fee policy will triple their overall debt, leaving many to pay off their debts for the rest of their working lives.
"NUS supports the widening participation agenda, but we believe that top-up fees and the massive debts that will accrue as a result will put off the very people that the government want to encourage to go to university."
Shadow health and education spokesman Tim Yeo said:
"Charles Clarke is now planning to burden the next generation of students with record levels of debt.
"This prospect may frighten many families from letting their children seek a university place, particularly those whose children might be the first generation to benefit from this opportunity.
"Vice-chancellors of universities need to see the truth: any extra money will be spent on means testing, regulation, and foundation degrees that are shunned by employers."
Liberal Democrat education spokesman Phil Willis warned Labour would make access to higher education dependent on the ability to pay, not on the ability to learn.
"This Bill will widen the social divide and makes it less likely that students from poorer backgrounds will access Britain's top universities," he said.
"The government seeks to burden students with mortgage style debts of up to £33,000, which many students will still be paying back when they retire.
"It transfers the cost from the state to the student moving us nearer to the USA model but without the corporate or alumni giving that is the norm in America."
Academics at the older universities are also against the plans.
More money is desperately needed, says the vice-chancellor of Bristol
Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "The fact the government is pressing ahead with the proposals for variable top-up fees makes an absolute mockery of its consultation exercise.
"Students have said no. Lecturers have said no. Former ministers have said no. The public has said no. But, still the government seems determined to force these plans through.
"By introducing variable top-up fees, ministers will be laying the foundations for a dog-eat-dog multi-tier university system, where students will get places at institutions based on their ability to pay, not their ability to learn."
The National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations said higher fees would deny poor children access to a university education
Spokeswoman Margaret Morrissey said: "We don't support top-up fees. We
strongly believe that access to higher education should be on pupils' ability,
not on ability to pay.
"Despite all the promises, we are confident that should the bill go through,
it will affect students from poor families, who will be forced not to go down
the higher education route."