The "jury is still out" on any fall in applications to universities, Brian Wilson told a fringe meeting. Early figures showed a 6 per cent drop but there was little evidence students were shunning higher education.
"At Paisley University, which attracts students from lower socio-economic classes, applications are up by 8 per cent this year," the Education Minister said.
Mr Wilson repeated his previous assertion that there never was "a golden age" for student funding and that the status quo was not an option. Just 11 per cent of the bottom two socio-economic groups went to university, against more than 80 per cent of the top two groups.
Tuition fees would not affect lower income groups and the new loans were more equitable than the current system, he insisted.
In the main conference debate, delegates backed the Government's reforms despite concerted opposition. Mr Wilson said most delegates backed the principle that those who can pay more, should. "And yet as soon as this principle is turned into practice they say it is an outrage," he protested.
Critics had to say where else the extra pound;140 million for higher education would come from.