Those who learn more will pay more under changes proposed by the Learning and Skills Council.
The LSC yesterday launched a 12-week consultation on how resources should be spent on the Government's skills strategy.
The aim is to shift priorities towards adults with no or low qualifications and away from those who have already benefited from education or training.
The proposals include fee increases for the better-qualified. The council also says employers must be ready to accept a greater share of the burden.
"We are not spending less money - just ensuring that those who have the least gain the most," said Rob Wye, director of the LSC's chief executive division.
He said colleges would need to make what they do more attractive to employers so they would "put their hands in their pockets". He added: "It won't be easy but the reformed qualifications framework, with more bite-size chunks on offer, will help."
At present, the LSC assumes that for a typical course an individual would pay 25 per cent of the cost - about pound;1.23 per hour. It is proposing that the base rate should increase to 35 per cent - pound;1.73 per hour.
This would still represent good value for learners, it said.
The universal entitlement to free learning for all adults without a qualification equivalent to an NVQ level 2 or five good GCSEs is reaffirmed.
Mark Haysom, LSC chief executive, said: "We do not underestimate the significance of these changes, nor the scale of cultural change that they imply. We will work with colleges and providers to help them secure additional income from course fees."
John Brennan, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said it had long recognised the case for increased contributions from individuals and employers in the face of public spending constraints.
"But a primary concern is how a change is managed," he added. "This necessitates a cultural change for individuals and employers asked to make a bigger contribution to their own learning. Colleges will be constrained by any lack of willingness by individuals and employers to increase their own investment."