By politics.co.uk staff
David Willetts has underlined the coalition's interest in a graduate tax, after a survey suggested the average student's final debt now stands at £16,614.
Research by Push found those in their first year face projected debt of £23,263, leading to warnings by the National Union of Students that the financial burden faced by students is increasing towards US-style mortgage levels of debt.
Last weekend higher education minister Mr Willetts said the government was looking at ways of forcing graduates to contribute to student finance, in a move apparently backing the Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable's calls for a graduate tax.
His response to the Push survey has reinforced these comments.
"A university degree is a very good investment in your future and it must be right that those who benefit contribute to the cost of their education," he said.
"Graduates on average have better employment prospects and can expect to earn at least £100,000, net of tax, more than non-graduates across their working lives."
Former BP boss Lord Browne is currently undertaking a review of higher education finance which could back the expansion of top-up fees. His report is due this autumn.
Mr Willetts added that the coalition government is "committed to social mobility".
"It is vital that a fairer alternative is found to the deeply unpopular and regressive system of top-up fees, which the government have quite correctly described as a poll tax and have accepted must now be replaced," NUS president Aaron Porter said.
"Fees trebled three years ago, with no subsequent improvement in student satisfaction, and yet vice chancellors now wish to more than double them again.
"Universities should look at improving the student experience, and providing better financial advice and support, rather than spending their time lobbying to add over £10,000 to the average student's debt."
Mr Willetts said: "Any changes to student finance will take into account the impact on student debt and the need to improve the quality of the university experience."