Exeter joins a growing list of universities including Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College intending to charge the highest rate, but it is the first university outside the elite Russell Group. If others in the second tier "1994 Group" declare similar intentions, it could be a sign that the government is going to struggle to keep fees to an average level of £7500, as planned. The government stated, when the plans were drawn up, that a level of £9000 would only apply in exceptional circumstances.
The announcement will mean Exeter will have to provide special provision for applicant students from poorer families and a system of bursaries.
David Willetts, the government's Universities Minister, has put himself on a collision course with the universities by stating that there is no reason arts courses should require fees of more than £6000 and scientific and medical courses £7500.
With the Russell Group universities, there is no doubt that setting tuition fees at the highest level is intended to signal exceptional quality. But the Exeter announcement appears to be a decision based purely on the university's finances. A spokesperson for Exeter University said that students would be expecting increases in the number of academic staff and better facilities. Since government cuts mean that the university is losing funding, it will need to increase its income in some other way. Students appear to be those who will pay.
Students at universities and FE Colleges, along with sixth form pupils, have all joined protests against the increases in tuition fees over the last few months. We have covered the student protests here. And if you are an A-Level student thinking about university, but worried about the increasing costs, we offer some words of advice.
Our feeling is that, with a growing number of universities announcing maximum fees, there will be serious consequences for the number of young people who can afford university. With a limited number of bursaries on offer, there is a danger that the universities system will become accessible only to a privileged minority of the population, with students from low and average income families simply unable to afford it. Universities may suffer themselves if the number of applicants falls. Are these prospects a part of the fairer Britain the coalition government wanted to achieve when it took office?