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Tuition fees to hit £8,500 average
University tuition fees are set to rise next year, with students paying just over £8,500 on average.
A third of English institutions will charge the maximum £9,000 as standard for a degree next year and around three in four will charge the top rate for at least one of their undergraduate courses, according to official figures.
English university fee levels for 2013/14 were published by the Office for Fair Access (Offa), as it released individual institutions' latest plans for ensuring that disadvantaged teenagers are not priced out of higher education.
Under a major overhaul of the system, every university that wants to charge students more than £6,000 and up to £9,000 must submit an annual "access agreement", which has to be signed off by Offa. Institutions that fail to meet targets in their agreement on recruiting and retaining students risk a hefty fine or losing the right to charge more than £6,000.
Students starting degree courses in autumn next year will pay estimated average tuition fees of £8,507, up from the latest estimate of £8,385 for 2012/13.
The Government originally predicted, when fees were first set to be raised, that the average annual cost would be £7,500, and that universities would only charge more than £6,000 in "exceptional circumstances".
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "When pushing higher fees through Parliament ministers promised that fees above £6,000 would be the exception rather than the rule. Today's figures confirm our more accurate prediction that fees closer to the maximum of £9,000 a year would in fact be the norm."
Dr Wendy Piatt, director-general of the Russell Group of leading universities, said: "Next year Russell Group universities in England will on average be spending more than 32% of their additional fee income on measures to improve access - more than the 26.5% average across other higher education institutions.
"The root cause of the under-representation of disadvantaged pupils is under-achievement at school and poor advice on the best choices of A-level subjects and university degree courses. Universities cannot solve these problems alone and we hope that Offa fully recognises the challenges of setting and achieving really quite specific outcome targets."
Universities Minister David Willetts said: "Applications from students from disadvantaged backgrounds for 2012 entry are holding up well. Now we want more progress in widening access and improving retention and we have tasked OFFA with helping universities to identify what works best."