An increase in university top-up fees is "inevitable", the vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford has warned.
Many students take on part-time work to make ends meet
John Hood said the university would have to charge more to maintain its quality of teaching while accounts were in "grave deficit".
Students starting their courses this month are the first generation to be charged £3,000-a-year top-up fees.
But Dr Hood warned that even with these, Oxford's deficit on its undergraduate account was "grave".
Giving his annual vice-chancellor's oration, he said: "An increase in fees is inevitable if we are to sustain the exceptional quality of the student body and the educational experience we offer."
Ministers have promised to review fee levels again in 2009.
Finance experts predict that when they graduate, students could be saddled with debts of more than £22,000.
The University and College Union warned last month that debt remained the key concern for students about to enter higher education.
The government has insisted that top-up fees, which students will pay back once they have graduated and started work, will not deter teenagers from applying to university.
The Department for Education and Skills launched a campaign last month about the financial assistance available for a university education.
This highlights sources of support, including the re-introduction of non-repayable grants of up to £2,700 a year for students from a household with a lower income.
Fall in applications
Students may also be eligible for non-repayable bursaries.
But figures from the admissions service Ucas showed a fall in applications to
start courses this year.
This followed a sharp rise last year when many students were thought to be
trying to get in ahead of top-up fees, though thousands missed out due to the
fierce competition for places.
Higher education minister Bill Rammell said it would be wrong to pre-empt an independent review of higher education funding reforms.
He said: "No real terms increase will be possible before 2010, and only after then
would it be possible if there is a vote passed by both Houses of Parliament."