Peers were debating the Higher Education Bill, which aims to scrap charges from 2006 and introduce fees of up to pound;3,000 a year which would be repayable later when the student begins earning.
Opposition and Labour peers argued that students should only have to pay fees for a maximum of three years, a move carried by 156 votes to 139.
Lord Campbell-Savours, a Labour peer, said the limit was to ensure students were not penalised if they needed to do a foundation course because their teachers had recommended the wrong A-levels. "The need for that additional year of study very often derives either from bad advice or simply from a student's inability to decide precisely what they should be doing," he said.
"Surely they should not have to pay for effectively an additional year at university?"
Peers also voted, against the Government, to ensure that young people taking a gap year in 2005 will not be disadvantaged. and for state funding of univesities not to be decreased.
MPs are expected to be asked to throw out the amendments when the Bill returns to the House of Commons later this year, although this is likely to lead to another showdown with the Lords before the Bill can be passed.