The trickle of universities that plan to charge £9,000 from September 2012 has become a stream. It will undoubtedly turn into a flood over the coming weeks.
In the past few days, University College London, Surrey, Aston and Essex have all confirmed that they will charge the maximum  amount. As have Birmingham and Lancaster. The universities minister, David Willetts, had previously stated that he expected £9,000 fees to be charged only in "exceptional circumstances". Far from the exception, £9,000 fees are proving the norm – except in a few cases.
One university that will not charge full whack is London Metropolitan University. London Met has a less-than-exemplary reputation. It dropped out of the Times's university rankings (£)  after nearly coming last five years ago (it will reappear in them next year, however). In 2009, LMU was in the bottom four of the student satisfaction survey. In this year's Guardian rankings, the university came rock bottom . LMU will charge "between £6,000 and £7,000" per place from 2012. Another university set to charge less than £9,000 is Liverpool Hope University. It, too, dropped out of the Times university rankings after coming bottom.
This sets a grim precedent. The only universities to announce that they will charge less than £9,000 are among the worst in the country. This might sound harsh and dismissive of the efforts of staff and students at these institutions, but sadly it is true. League tables may have their faults , but by practically every indicator, these universities come near the bottom.
Yet these are the institutions that students who fear debt will be drawn towards. Indeed, that is the only reason these universities are willing to charge less than the maximum for undergraduate tuition fees. If you have low standards, you have to have low prices.
The public message, then, is depressingly simple: pay top rate, or get a second-rate degree.