British Universities consider dropping fees to attract students
A number of English universities are considering dropping their tuition fees to £7,500 or lower, it has emerged.
The move comes in response to the British Government's announcement of incentives for institutions that charge lower fees.
Ministers announced in a White Paper this summer that English universities who charged £7,500 or lower would be able to bid for a share of 20,000 funded student places.
The Office For Fair Access (Offa) confirmed that 12 universities, all of whom were planning to charge over this threshold, had expressed an interest in reducing their fees.
Universities planning to charge over £6,000 had to submit "access agreements" to Offa setting out how they planned to support students and ensure that those from poorer homes were not priced out.
But these access agreements were submitted before the White Paper was published.
In light of the new proposals, a dozen institutions have approached Offa expressing an interest in submitting new agreements based on lower fees.
Offa has issued a guidance note to universities which states: "You may be considering measures to lower your institution's net average fee, in order to bid for places under the new 'core and margin' system.
"This guidance note sets out how to make any resulting changes to your access agreement."
Any university planning to make changes to their fee levels needs to submit a revised access agreement to Offa.
An Offa spokesman said that of the 12 universities who have expressed an interest in revising their agreements, "a couple" were planning on charging students towards £9,000 a year, but the majority had been planning to set fees at lower than £8,000 to £8,500.
It is understood that none of the universities are leading Russell Group institutions, and the majority are newer post-1992 universities.
Eric Thomas, the president of Universities UK, said changing fee levels would be a "complicated calculation" for universities, adding that institutions would need to move quickly if they wished to do so.
Students can begin applying from this week for university courses starting next autumn.
MPs voted to triple tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 in December last year.
More than a third of English universities are due to charge fees of £9,000 as standard from 2012, while almost three-fifths will charge the maximum for at least one of their undergraduate courses.
The White Paper contained plans to hand 20,000 places to institutions charging £7,500 or less for courses on average - known as "core and margin" places.
Universities will also be allowed to offer unlimited places to students who achieve two As and a B or higher in their A-levels.
Shadow universities minister Gareth Thomas said: "No student should have to face paying £9,000 tuition fees.
"The fees set by universities are a mess of the Government's own making after they cut university funding by 80% and allowed tuition fees to treble."