YORK MP Hugh Bayley has joined a growing revolt against controversial plans for student "top up" fees.

The Labour MP has warned allowing elite universities such as York to charge up to £3,000 per year extra could deter youngsters from poor backgrounds.

He has backed a Westminster motion arguing for a flat-rate increase in the £1,100 tuition fee paid by all students.

Mr Bayley said this was a better solution for meeting any funding gap faced by universities.

Almost 50 MPs have now signed the Early Day Motion - mostly from the Labour ranks.

At least another 50 are fiercely opposed to the idea of top-up fees, but are reluctant to sign the motion because they do not want to support any increase in student fees.

It raises the prospect of Prime Minister Tony Blair suffering a humiliating defeat when his plans for a review of student finance are debated in the Commons early next year.

Selby MP John Grogan has already made his opposition clear, warning Mr Blair to expect a tough time from within his own party.

Higher Education Minister Margaret Hodge has been warned of the widespread opposition to differential fees.

But she remained defiant, claiming there were strong arguments against the flat-rate increase backed by Mr Bayley.

Mrs Hodge justified allowing top universities to charge up to £3,000 per year by arguing students who go there will earn much more in their working lives.

Charging a flat rate would be unfair to those who go to less prestigious universities and do not go on to receive the same salaries.

Mrs Hodge said: "We know there are different returns for individuals depending on the institutions they attend and the different courses they take.

"Is it really fair to ask for an even contribution from students when graduates get an uneven return?"

She claimed that - when the top university was compared with that at the bottom of the league table - the difference in salary was 44 per cent.

Updated: 09:59 Wednesday, April 16, 2003