The “vast majority” of Scots support the principle of free education, he told MSPs during First Minister’s Questions.

The former head of Universities Scotland, Lord Sutherland, recently called for fees to be reintroduced.

Mr Salmond said: “We disagree that Scotland should reintroduce tuition fees so recently abolished by this Government and this Parliament.

“We have always made it clear that we believe access to higher education should be based on the ability to learn - not the ability to pay.

“Up to 50,000 students and graduates have benefited from the abolition of the fees.”

A higher proportion of Government spending is also going into universities, he said.

Scotland ranks in the top echelons of the world in both teaching and access to education, as well as research, he claimed.

The issue was raised by Nationalist backbencher Jamie Hepburn.

Mr Salmond added that Professor Steve Smith, the new head of Universities UK, had told its conference in Edinburgh last week that tuition fees is an “irrelevant” issue in Scotland because funding levels are comparable with England.

“I think the vast majority of people in Scotland and informed opinion support the principle of free education and will not wish to see that reversed,” Mr Salmond said.