There is growing speculation that next month's Budget will contain an increase in registration fees by around €1,000 or even doubled by €1,500 to €3,000 for next year.

The Minister for Defence Tony Killeen has refused to rule out substantial increases in third level college registration fees.

Asked on 'The Week In Politics' about registration fees the Minister said 'we have a very difficult challenge. No area is exempt from consideration. The challenges are very, very difficult.'

Mr Killeen said the object of the Government was 'to concentrate on preserving the quality of our education system and I think we can do that.'

Fine Gael's Education spokesman Fergus O'Dowd said that they remained committed to the introduction of a graduate tax, which could raise around €500m a year.

In advance of the Budget he said the Tánaiste and Education and Skills Minister Mary Coughlan should come before the Oireachtas Education Committee.

'We do not expect to get what they are considering as cuts. What we want to go through is every single issue, every single item of expenditure so everybody has an open debate on the issues.'

Oireachtas Committee on Education Chairman Paul Gogarty has warned that key areas of the renewed Programme for Government in relation to education are 'non-negotiable.'

He continued, 'there is a huge range of issues that are up for grabs, we will take some of the pain in the education department. But some of the provisions in the Programme for Government will have to be non-negotiable.'

Meanwhile, The Union of Students in Ireland said a doubling of the fees would result in a huge number of students being forced to drop out of college.

USI President Gary Redmond said such 'an increase would sound the death knell for the Government's smart and knowledge based economy.'