TWO-thirds of adults would support students either paying fees upfront in college or paying for their higher education when they graduate and start working.
Support for fees is found evenly across the social classes, a new Irish Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne poll reveals.
Only one-third (31pc) believe higher education should be fully funded by the Department of Education. This belief is strongest among young people (44pc) and Sinn Fein supporters (47pc).
Respondents were asked which of a number of options they would support for funding third-level education.
The poll found 40pc of adults believed third-level education should be funded partly by the State and partly by college fees.
Some 25pc supported the introduction of a graduate loan system, whereby students repay fees in the future, once they reach a certain income.
The findings will make it easier for the next government to move away from the present system where the State pays all tuition fees without any repayment by students.
Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail favour some variation of a loans/graduate repayment scheme which would allow students to pay fees upfront if they wished.
The Labour Party, which abolished tuition fees in the mid-1990s, is still opposed to fees at the point of entry, but its education spokesman Ruairi Quinn has suggested that because of the changed economic circumstances some form of graduate contribution may have to be introduced.
Sinn Fein is strongly opposed to the return of fees in any form. The Green Party's education spokesman Paul Gogarty yesterday said he did not favour any change in the present system of funding, but accepted that in the medium-term graduates could make a bigger contribution through taxes.