The Conservatives brought their soapboxes to Midland university campuses yesterday as they tried to win over the student vote.

Higher Education spokesman Charles Hendry visited Warwick, Coventry and Birmingham universities in a bid to sell Tory proposals to scrap tuition fees and Labour's proposed new "top-up" fees.

He put the party's case to students as they were coming and going between lectures.

Although the stereotypical image of an undergraduate is an angry left-winger, the largest political society on Midland campuses is Conservative Forward, the Tory youth organisation.

However, this has traditionally attracted members as much for its social events as for its politics.

Imposing tuition fees and abolishing student grants - which it now plans to bring back for less wealthy students - have been among Labour's most controversial policies.

If Labour wins the election it will allow universities to charge additional variable fees of up to £3,000 a year.

The proposals have been fiercely criticised by opponents but are supported by the Russell Group, which represents vice-chancellors at Britain's top universities including Birmingham and Warwick.

They argue higher education desperately needs more money.

Conservatives say they will provide free tuition.

However, they will increase the interest charged on student loans, which are used to pay living expenses, and give the extra cash this raises to universities.

A Conservative Government would also allow students to borrow more than they can at present, on the grounds that undergraduates are forced to take out loans from banks already.

A recent survey by Barclays found that graduates in the Midlands rack up the biggest debt in the country, owing an average of £15,388 when they leave university.