Lord Browne has published his independent review on university funding, recommending a free market in fees that could rise to some £12,000 a year for a degree course.
The current balance between what a graduate pays and what the state pays, he told James Naughtie, did not reflect the benefit of a university education.
But even in a more expensive system, he said, only 40% of graduates would end up paying back the full cost of their education, as payment only starts when the graduate's earnings rise above £21,000.
"A lot of people won't pay back anything like what the government has given them," he said.
The review also recommends more advice to those thinking of going to university, and a higher level of regulatory oversight.
The aim of the review, he said, was to create a system "as sustainable as possible, so that we don't have to keep on changing it".
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