The university experience has not been improved by the introduction of tuition fees 10 years ago, students and lecturers say.
Students now pay up to £3,000 a year for tuition
A decade ago, Lord Dearing produced a report on higher education, paving the way for the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to introduce tuition fees.
But the National Union of Students said students had gained little in return for thousands of pounds spent in fees.
The University and College Union said poor staff pay had not been resolved.
Speaking ahead of a conference on the 10th anniversary of the Dearing Report, NUS vice-president Wes Streeting said: "For students and their families, the most significant impact of the Dearing Report is that it paved the way for the £3,000 variable yearly fees that they now pay.
"As a group, students now stump up more than the 25% contribution to the costs of higher education that Lord Dearing envisaged.
"But where are the corresponding improvements in the education they receive?
"And where is the industry money that Dearing also recommended should be pumped in to the sector?
"Students are being turned into consumers of their education, but they have precious few consumer rights."
Many were now forced to sign "one-sided student contracts" promising to work hard but had in return "little recourse" for poor quality teaching, he said.
Ministers are due to review the fees system in two years and many predict that the £3,000 cap on what universities can charge will be raised or possibly lifted completely.
A changed landscape
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said that the low levels of staff pay that the Dearing Report identified in 1997 had still not been settled.
She said: "The Dearing Report in 1997 dramatically changed higher education forever.
"Dearing correctly identified the future health of higher education as being entirely dependent on its staff.
"Ten years on and the incredible work being done by staff in our universities is still not being properly rewarded.
"The worries highlighted about recruiting and retaining the very best staff are an even greater concern now than they were a decade ago.
"If we are to maintain our proud international reputation as a global leader in higher education, we must urgently invest in our staff."
University still popular
However, the government says statistics from the university admissions service, Ucas, indicate higher fees are not putting students off going to university.
Ucas figures show that, by the end of March 2007 there had been 5.2% more applicants across the UK compared with March 2006, at 446,765.
Ministers say a range of grants and bursaries help students to cover the extra fees and living costs.
Unlike previous tuition fees, students no longer have to pay "up front" - instead fees are covered by a loan, repayable by graduates once their annual income passes £15,000.