Sugar's right-hand man tells students fees rise is an 'outrage'

The decision to raise tuition fees to up to £9,000 a year is an "absolute outrage", Lord Alan Sugar's right-hand man on The Apprentice has told students.

Nick Hewer, the peer's trusted adviser on the BBC show, warned that the policy would lead to thousands of students from poorer backgrounds "shying away" from higher education.

The former PR executive, who was persuaded out of retirement by Lord Sugar to take part in the show, was addressing students from Kingston University.

"It's an absolute outrage because education is a right," he said in response to a question. "This measure will mean students from poorer backgrounds will shy away from higher education, to their and their country's detriment. And it's very disappointing because some things the Coalition has done have been quite brave."

Mr Hewer told The Independent: "That particular university doesn't have that affluent a catchment area. You could see from the audience that they were not all well-to-do. It's terrible. Education, in my view, is a right and to price particular kids who can't afford it out of the market is wrong."

Ministers have tried to defend their proposals – under which fees would rise from £3,300 to between £6,000 and £9,000 – by stressing there will be no up-front payments and that nobody will have to repay their fees until they are earning at least £21,000 a year.

However, Mr Hewer said: "A lot of families can't cope with the concept of owing £20,000 because they weren't brought up in that atmosphere, with nice middle-class parents shelling out £25,000 a year in fees for private schools." He added: "If you lose a proportion of bright poor kids from higher education, then it's the country's loss."

Mr Hewer was addressing about 300 students from the university's business and law faculty, invited because of their roles as student mentors or leaders of university clubs and societies. Many were the first generation of their family to go to university.

Mr Hewer also criticised law firms which only employed graduates from more traditional universities. "The reason why they only employ graduates with Oxbridge firsts is because they probably got Oxbridge firsts themselves," he said.

"What I'd encourage you to do is join another firm and prove yourself there," he told the students. "Then when you do join one of the big names, make sure you open it up to people from other backgrounds."