RAISING tuition fees was the only viable option minister Lynne Featherstone has said while admitting the proposals needed careful monitoring when they are rolled out in 2012.

The Hornsey and Wood Green MP maintained she always been a supporter of free education paid for through higher taxes but said that option was not on the table and perhaps "idealistic".

She said that under the Labour Government, who introduced top-up fees, the gap between the rich and the poor had still widened even though university uptake had increased and that in order to tackle social mobility, other measures needed to be put in place.

Ms Feathersone said: "It has been a difficult journey to go on and the one thing that emerged from this is that no matter which side of the debate you were on people really care about education. That was clear from the emotion that was shown in the House.

"I do think the Lib Dems are the good guys that is why we made the pre-election pledge to oppose a rise in tuition fees and incorporated that into our manifesto. I think that shows where we stand. However, there were no options to fund this and make it a reality. So I had to make a decision."

Under the motion backed by Ms Featherstone, England's universities will be able to charge up to £6,000 per year in fees from 2012, and as much as £9,000 for top universities.

This is treble the current £3,290 cap for 2010/11 and has reduced the Government's contribution to higher education by 80 per cent.

Former higher education minister and Tottenham MP David Lammy said:"We should reflect that fees of £9,000 a year could total up to debt of between £40,000 and £50,000 on completion of a university course. That is substantially more than the annual incomes of many of my constituents.

"That is substantially more than the £3,000 Labour introduced. The essential ingredient of this debate is that we are breaking the partnership between student, state and university. We are saying that the state can step out of the arrangement, and that the arrangement should be entirely between the student and the university. It is my contention that that is unacceptable."

In a deal for the most disadvantaged, pupils eligible for free meals will have their first year of higher education paid for by the state and "elite universities" will be obliged to fund the second year as well.

Ms Featherstone said was conscious of the lower middle class bracket who would be deterred from sending their children to University as only those who earn less than £16,000 or are on state benefits are entitled to the reprieve.

She said: "I am conscious of that and that is why I have asked for there to be a review if there is any drop in University applications and we can try and manage it. I thought there would have been a drop in applications, but there wasn't."

The equalities minister added: "Increasing social mobility has to start way before university. Haringey's schools suffered losses of millions pounds in funding under the Labour Government and will finally be addressed thanks to the pupil premium. The Lib Dems have fought for the best deal possible. I am not sure if people will see that though."

In Haringey, Lib Dem Councillor Matt Davies has quit the party, stating he felt he was uncomfortable belonging to the party following last night's tuition fees vote.