Students face tuition fees rising to £9,000
Students in universities in England face tuition fees rising to £9,000 per year, as the government confirmed plans for higher education.
Fees will rise to £6,000 - with an upper tier of £9,000, if universities ensure access for poorer students.
Universities Minister David Willetts told MPs this was a "good deal for students and universities".
Labour's Gareth Thomas said the fee hike represented a "tragedy for a whole generation of young people".
The National Union of Students dubbed the plan, which will mean almost a threefold increase, "an outrage".
Much of the proposed fee rise, up from the current £3,290 per year, will replace public funding withdrawn from universities in last month's Spending Review.
The Million+ group of new universities has warned the cuts will mean universities will be forced to charge the maximum £9,000 - and that the proposals are "very unlikely" to provide a "long-term and sustainable basis" for university funding.
"Unless universities charge £9,000 there is a big risk that they will be worse and not better-off because of the swingeing cuts to teaching funding. The fear then must be that the outcome of such high fees will be to damage participation and social mobility," said Million+ chair, Professor Les Ebdon.
Ministers have been trying to achieve a balancing act between a sustainable funding system for universities and a political deal which will head off a Liberal Democrat backbench rebellion.
NUS president, Aaron Porter, said Liberal Democrat MPs who were going to ditch their election pledge to vote against any rise in fees should be "ashamed of themselves".
Opposition leader Ed Miliband accused the coalition of breaking promises over tuition fees - but Prime Minister David Cameron said that such challenges from Labour showed that "opportunism has overtaken principle".
Mr Willetts, presenting the plans to the House of Commons, confirmed that universities charging the highest fees will have to show support for widening access to students from economically poorer backgrounds.
This would mean the type of outreach programmes that many universities already carry out, such as summer schools and targeted scholarships.
This would not mean quotas of students from poor homes, but Mr Willetts promised a "tougher regime" of sanctions if universities made insufficient efforts to attract poorer students.
Interest rates for repayments on student loans will also be designed to make it more expensive for higher-paid graduates.
Mr Willetts outlined plans in which graduates earning less than £21,000 per year would not pay any real interest on loans, rising to inflation plus 3% on a scale for graduates earning between £21,000 and £41,000 per year.
But there will be further consultations on possible penalties for early repayment.
Speaking ahead of the announcement, the Liberal Democrats' youth group rejected the proposals.
"The current burden of debt is already weighing heavily on many students, and putting many others off going to university altogether," said Liberal Youth chairman Martin Shapland.
Labour's university spokesman, Gareth Thomas, warned that "students will be forced to choose the cheapest courses, not the one that suits them best".
Michael Arthur, vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds, and chairman of the Russell Group of top universities, said the funding deal sent a signal that the government recognised "the importance of higher education to the future of our country, its economy and our ability as universities to help the country out of recession".
There have been warnings about a two-tier system emerging from the split level of fees.
David Barclay, president of Oxford University Student Union, says: "A two-cap system will mean a two-tier system returning us to the dark days of some universities for the many and some universities for the few."
Mr Barclay has been invited to meet Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg on Wednesday, as the coalition tries to sell the funding package.
The changes in tuition fees will apply to universities in England. Scottish students studying in Scotland do not have to pay any fees. In Northern Ireland and Wales, fees are currently charged up to a maximum of £3,290.BBC News