Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy targeted the student vote yesterday, with pledges to scrap university fees, boost grants and cut debt.

Mr Kennedy focused on his party's opposition to top-up fees, accusing the Prime Minister of "reneging" on a promise not to introduce them.

He also promised to scrap the annual up-front tuition fee of £1,150, using the proceeds of a 50 per cent tax on people earning over £100,000 to meet the £5.8 billion cost.

The party has already been successful in getting rid of upfront fees in Scotland.

He said: "How can our young people get a foot on the housing ladder while they work to pay off their £20,000 debt ?

"How can they plan for their pension and start saving ? How can they afford to start a family and the extra costs that brings when they are paying off their student debt ?"

He added: "The Liberal Democrats don't just oppose top-up and student tuition fees because we disagree with the policy. I oppose them because I think there is no more nauseating sight than politicians pulling up the ladder of opportunity behind them."

Lib Dems say student debt has soared to an average of £13,501 and cite research showing "spiralling" bankruptcy rates among students.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that the average student debt will rise to £20,000 when top-up fees come into effect next year.

All three main parties want to scrap up-front fees. The Labour option is top-up fees, capped at £3,000 a year and repayable when graduates start earning £15,000 a year.

Conservatives would scrap all university tuition fees and charge commercial interest rates on student loans to create endowments for universities.