University tuition fees in England should be raised to help meet the costs of teaching students, said Oxford University chancellor Lord Patten.

The ex-Hong Kong governor said it was 'preposterous' that univer-sities could only charge under-graduates less than half of what professors may pay for childcare.

He said he was expressing his own views and not those of the university.

A spokeswoman for Oxford University said it did not have a settled position on the level of tuition fees.

Speaking at the Independent Schools' Council annual conference in London, Lord Patten said: 'It is preposterous that we can only charge for teaching an undergraduate less than half the cost than those who do the teaching would have to pay for creche facilities for their own children.'

He said universities should receive public teaching grants along with tuition fees.

But he said: 'For myself, I repeat, I would however be prepared to cap the present funding of our teaching grant if we were able as a result to set whatever tuition fee we wanted, provided that we could demonstrate that we were still guaranteeing needs-blind access with generous bursaries.'

Lord Patten, a former Conservative education minister, said it cost just more than £16,000 to teach an undergraduate at Oxford, about half of which was covered by publicly-funded teaching grants and tuition fees.

He also said there should be 'much more specialisation' in institutions so students knew the differences between universities.

Oxford University also stressed that Lord Patten was expressing his own views.

A spokeswoman said the university's submission to the review currently taking place in higher education funding made clear the university was faced with 'significant underfunding of undergraduate teaching.'

'We are clear, however, that the gap cannot be addressed by fees alone. We are also clear that whatever happens with fees, access must be regardless of finances,' she said.

She added that any increase in fees would have to be matched by bursaries so all students could benefit, regardless of ability to pay.

NUS President Wes Streeting said: 'Lord Patten should step out of his ivory tower for a moment to realise that students are leaving university with record levels of debt, and graduate job prospects are at an all time low.

'I find it astonishing that he continues to promote uncapped tuition fees like an old broken record.'

He said if the cap on fees were scrapped, poorer students would be priced out of more prestigious universities.

When variable tuition fees were introduced in England in 2006, the government said there would be no lifting of the cap until after a review of their impact had taken place.

The government-commi-ssioned review into funding is not expected to be finished until after the general election.

Students in England and Northern Ireland and non-Welsh residents at universities in Wales have to pay tuition fees of as much as £3,225 a year.

Welsh residents studying in Wales pay fees of £1,285, while there are no tuition fees for Scottish students at institutions in Scotland.

Source: BBC