Scottish Government plans to scrap the student graduate endowment should be thrown out, the Scottish Parliament's education committee has decided.
In a blow to one of the SNP's flagship policies, MSPs said getting rid of the £2,289 charge would not remove barriers to higher education.
But the government said the majority of those who responded to the committee were in favour of the move.
The final decision on the plans will be made by the full parliament.
The education committee, which is scrutinising the legislation to abolish the endowment, was evenly split on whether to back it, but it's convener, Labour MSP Karen Whitefield, used her casting vote against the bill.
"The committee believes that the funding required to be foregone so that the graduate endowment can be abolished would be better invested in other methods," said Ms Whitefield.
"This would help to retain a competitive edge in the delivery of high quality higher education and to widen access, including for example more funding directly for universities and in the current system of bursaries.
"The committee remains unconvinced that the removal of graduate endowment goes far enough in removing barriers to access higher education."
The committee's Nationalist MSPs and Liberal Democrat Jeremy Purvis backed the Graduate Endowment Abolition (Scotland) Bill, while the Labour members and Tory MSP Liz Smith were against.
Labour higher education spokesman Richard Baker said: "Universities have told us they don't have the funds to increase student numbers, which begs the question, how can this bill widen access when there won't be more places for students to take up?
"If this bill goes ahead, competition for places is likely to be even fiercer for students from poorer backgrounds, most of whom don't pay the endowment."
Mr Purvis said boosting student support and cutting graduate debt were key Lib Dem policies, but added: "This bill, if passed by parliament in spite of the recommendation of the committee, will need substantial changes to make it a wider student and higher education funding bill."
Ms Smith added: "The current situation in higher education is that universities and colleges are asking for vastly improved funds to retain both high quality teaching and the competitive edge that Scottish universities have always enjoyed.
"Abolishing the graduate endowment would do nothing to improve either the teaching capacity or the research facilities in higher education."
A Scottish Government source said: "Almost all the respondees to the committee were in favour of the bill to restore free education and abolish the £2,000 tax on graduates.
"Even Andrew Cubie, who was the architect of the original graduate endowment scheme, has welcomed its passing.
"Even more tellingly, the president of NUS Scotland is in favour."