Funding for colleges and universities should be a big issue at the general election because it has become a "disastrous mess", according to a union leader.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, will also claim that the "bundled" £9,000 a year tuition fees risked costing the public more than the previous system.
She will tell her union's annual conference in Manchester that the coalition's record on education is "lamentable".
Ms Hunt will say the Government's "American dream" to allow more private colleges into the higher education system has become an "English nightmare".
She will add: "Lecturers sometimes joke that this would be an easy job without the students. But some of the for-profit colleges at the centre of the scandal about poor standards and little attendance by students, this seems to have been taken literally.
"Lectures with literally no-one in them except the tutor. Paid for by the taxpayer. UCU warned time and again that for-profit education would lead to the kind of free-for-all we saw in America and the many problems it created. Poor attendance, huge debts, low standards."
Ms Hunt will say the Government had claimed to have settled funding for a generation. "But the reality is that it is now a disastrous, unstable mess. Despite the tripling of tuition fees, experts now think we are not far away from the point when this new system will actually cost the public purse more than the old one.
"Meanwhile, the further education loans system has been completely abandoned for apprenticeships and is running woefully under target for other adults. All this means funding must be an issue at the general election."
A Business Department spokesman said: "Our reforms have put universities on a sustainable footing and this is driving up the quality of the student experience as well as stimulating economic growth.
"Through these reforms we are protecting those on lower incomes and people from disadvantaged backgrounds are now applying in record numbers.
"Private colleges have an important role to play in providing students with an alternative to university.Where standards are not being met we are taking action.
"The process to designate courses for student support has been strengthened considerably and where we have found evidence of abuse, we have taken swift and decisive action."