The Government has taken another step towards establishing a topped-up tertiary education savings scheme for youngsters, but has yet to fully commit to the idea.

It came as the New Zealand Institute released details of a survey that found widespread support for endowed individual savings schemes for Kiwis at birth.

But the University Students Association has panned the tertiary proposal, saying it will further disadvantage the educational prospects of children from lower-income families.

Education Minister Trevor Mallard yesterday called for expressions of interest from groups interested in providing the tertiary savings scheme. "This contestable process is the first step in determining if there is sufficient interest from providers in offering such a scheme and, if so, how best to proceed."

Likely key features included voluntary participation and a Government contribution that could include an upfront payment for children under six to encourage early enrolment, he said.

The Government will consider options around the level of the upfront payment when it makes decisions in August on whether to proceed, once expressions of interest are considered. The options are to deposit $250, $500 or $1000 in each account, Mr Mallard said.

Individuals would not be able to access a student loan until they had drawn down funds from the savings account, although the account balance would not affect their eligibility for a student allowance.

Withdrawals would be permitted only for tertiary education costs, such as course fees, living and other related course costs, he said.

Asked by United Future MP Bernie Ogilvy, whose party has promoted the scheme, what would happen if those signed up opted against a tertiary education, Mr Mallard said it was probable the money would be transferred to a work-based superannuation scheme.

Because the account would be supplemented by Government funds, it could not simply be used for any purpose, he said.

The Government plans to unveil a work-based savings scheme in next week's Budget, designed to help more first-time home buyers save a deposit. A work-based superannuation scheme, covering all employees in medium to large workplaces, will form the other key strand of the package.

University Students Association co-president Camilla Belich said the tertiary proposal was the worst made by a Government in a decade. She said the student-debt crisis needed to be addressed now, not in 20 years.

Co-president Andrew Kirton said lower-income families were already struggling and would not be able to put money aside for the scheme.