Of all the injustices perpetrated by my generation on young people in the UK – absurd house prices, job insecurity, stagnant earnings – the worst is probably the imposition of unsustainable debt through university tuition fees. Thanks to the Scottish Parliament, Scotland has been protected so far from this iniquitous tax on learning, first introduced by Tony Blair a decade ago in defiance of Labour manifesto pledges.

Here, the Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition abolished upfront fees in 2001 and the SNP Government scrapped them entirely after 2007. The Scottish political parties, all bar the Conservatives, are opposed to shackling this generation with loans they will never be able to repay. But the battle is far from over.

I keep being told by university figures that free tuition is unsustainable and that Scotland is somehow out of step with developed countries. This is not the case. In countries like Norway and Denmark universities are tuition-free, and elsewhere in Europe fees are mostly minuscule. England is alone in Europe in imposing fees of £9,000 (and rising)

Germany, that great industrial powerhouse, has just scrapped university tuition fees altogether. The Germans believe higher eduction is too important to leave to the private sector, and that the system the UK has been trying to import from America is ruinous for students and society alike.

Indeed, in America, where student debt is now $1.3 trillion, there has been a widespread reaction against the very policy Labour and the Conservatives introduced here. Hilary Clinton has made debt-free tuition the centrepiece of her campaign for the Democrat presidential nomination.

The rest of Europe rightly believes education is a public good and should remain so. Yet in Scotland there has been a strand of right and left-wing opinion that has argued vociferously that free higher education is wrong and regressive: that tuition fees are a middle-class subsidy; and even that students are worse off in Scotland than their counterparts in England.

This argument is based on a false assumption that, through maintenance grants and bursaries, poorer English students somehow are compensated for the debt they take on in fees. The former NUS President, David Aaronovitch, has even claimed that poor students in England don't pay fees at all. This is nonsense. All students south of the Border pay tuition fees though, as in Scotland, some can apply for bursaries and scholarships, which may defray some of the cost.

But student debt is vastly higher in England because of tuition fees, and is growing so fast the Government is in a panic. Repayments have been dwindling, which is why the Conservatives have just broken their word and abolished maintenance grants for students from low-income families. Undergraduates have to finance their higher education living costs and tuition fees entirely from loans.

Students in England face emerging from university with debts of around £55,000. They will spend the rest of their lives with this ball and chain, the burden of which will be most acute just as they are trying to start a family and buy – or rent – a home.This will have profound economic consequences as student debt crowds out consumer spending.

Angry students have made their views clear by blocking Westminster Bridge but the pass has been sold. Once the decision was taken in 2010 – after riots in parliament square – to impose the bulk of university costs onto students, the course was already set. It amounts to a blatant and unfair assault on educational aspiration, targeted at those on lowest incomes.

David Cameron claims he is justified in axing maintenance grants because tuition fee debt has not yet discouraged school leavers from poorer backgrounds from applying to go to university in England. Nor has it discouraged English students from studying in Scottish universities, where they sit next to Scottish students who pay no fees at all.

However, it can only be a matter of time before students realise what is happening. Some have been deluded into believing they can avoid debt repayment by keeping their earnings below the repayment threshold of £21,000. After 30 years, the debt is extinguished. But they are in for a shock.

The Government has already lowered the threshold for repayments by breaking another promise to raise it annually in line with inflation over the next five years. The forecast is that a majority of those entering higher education in England will still never repay their debts, the interest on which rises each year. This cannot be allowed to happen, so there will inevitably be further fiddling with thresholds to increase debt repayments.

And it's not only the threshold that is being raised; so are the fees themselves. Oxbridge colleges have been lobbying hard to charge “the market rate”. The new vice chancellor of Oxford, Louise Richardson, formerly of St Andrews University, appears to want see the American system introduced in its entirety, with no fee limit. In America, fees of $40,000 or $50,000 a term are not unusual.

Advocates of the US system often often claim these headline figures are irrelevant because of the “blind-admissions” policies of many top American universities. Gifted students are often enrolled without their financial means being taking into consideration. The universities pick up the tuition-fee tab.

Institutions such as Yale and Stanford can do this because they have endowment funds of up to $20 billion. They want the best students and are prepared to pay for them. But this would not be possible in the UK, except in certain very wealthy Oxbridge colleges, because our universities are less well-healed.

In Scotland, universities like Edinburgh have for years been trying to boost donations bequests and other sources of income (like international students who already pay uncapped fees) but their endowments still only run into the hundreds of millions, not the billions. We have blind admission because the state picks up the cost.

Why are universities so keen on fees? Essentially, because many vice-chancellors are attracted to the idea of universities being run on the model of private schools. Many already regard their institutions as private, which is one reason they are so opposed to the Scottish Government's Higher Education Bill that asserts, rightly, that they are public bodies dependent for their survival on taxpayers.

Can the Scottish Government continue to keep higher education free in this era of austerity? In some ways it is remarkable that the Scottish Government has managed to find the cash to keep higher education free since it comes not from English subsidies but from the fixed Barnett Formula. It has had to reduce maintenance grants by 40 per cent and cut further education courses.

I hope and believe ministers will find the cash. The English system is already discredited. It is so ruinously expensive that it cannot continue in its present form. There will have to be some form of debt "detente" or an entire generation is going to be in a form of loan servitude. The tide has turned; we must not turn it back in Scotland.