University tuition fees in England should be cut to £7,500, according to a review which would balance this by extending student loan repayments from 30 to 40 years.
The government-commissioned review calls for better funding for students in vocational education.
Maintenance grants to support poorer students, scrapped in 2016, should also be reinstated, says the review.
“I believe it is time to bring them back,” said Prime Minister Theresa May.
But Mrs May, soon to leave Downing Street, acknowledged the fate of the proposals would depend on the next prime minister.
“It will be up to the government to decide, at the upcoming spending review, whether to follow this recommendation,” she said.
The prime minister said it was right to lower fees as “plenty of courses do not cost the full current rate of £9,250 per student per year to teach”.
The review, chaired by Philip Augar, warns that “some students are charged too much for their degrees” – and calls for the maximum fee to be reduced from £9,250 per year to £7,500, beginning from 2021-22.
This fee level would be frozen until 2023-24, says the review, after which it would rise with inflation.
Such changes to the level of fees would have to be approved by Parliament before they could be implemented.
But students would pay back loans for another decade. Instead of any unpaid loans being cancelled 30 years after graduation, deductions would continue for 40 years.
This could see graduates paying back loans through most of their working lives into their sixties.
Graduates would continue to be charged interest rates based on inflation plus 3% – but interest charges while students were still studying would be reduced.
Repayments would also begin at an earnings threshold of £23,000 rather than the current £25,725.