Controversial plans to lift the cap on student tuition fees amount to the privatisation of higher education, a university chief has warned.
The proposal that could see students paying more than £7,000 a year may please "elitist universities" but it will discourage those on low incomes from taking degree courses, claimed University of Ulster (UU) Vice Chancellor Professor Richard Barnett.
The proposal to scrap the current £3,290 cap was put forward last week in Lord Browne's review of higher education funding in England.
While no decision has been taken on future fee rates in Northern Ireland, Lord Browne's findings prompted Stormont Employment and Learning minister Sir Reg Empey to order a review of a regional report that previously advised the local cap be retained.
On Tuesday hundreds of students held a protest against the Browne proposals outside the other main university in Northern Ireland, Queen's in Belfast.
Briefing Assembly members at UU's Magee campus in Londonderry, Prof Barnett added his voice to the condemnation and called on the devolved administration to reject the idea.
As well as the Browne proposal, Prof Barnett hit out at so-called elitist institutions that he claimed had pushed for the cap removal.
"What these fees proposals are about is the privatisation of higher education," he told members of Sir Reg's scrutiny committee.
"That is what a small self-appointed group of self-serving universities have been pushing for over a longer period, and they may now well be getting their way in England. They recruit largely from private schools and do little for widening access.
"The envisaged scale of increase in fees - to £7,000 and beyond - is not justified."