Students at prestigious universities could face top-up fees of about Pounds 1,000 from 1998. The London School of Economics last week became the first university to start such a move when its Court of Governors agreed by a two-to-one majority that fees could be charged from September 1998 if financial circumstances required it.
Vice-chancellors meeting in London decided against imposing a Pounds 300 entry fee next September. But, they said, this was not because of the extra Pounds 100 million for universities found in last month's Budget but because of legal advice that students had not been given fair notice.
However, Professor Gareth Roberts, chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, said a "substantial" number of universities would alert applicants for places in 1998 that fees were possible.
He suspected that fees might be around the Pounds 1,000 mark, with a safety net so that at least half of students would not have to pay the full sum.
He urged universities to wait until Sir Ron Dearing's inquiry into higher education had reported next summer before deciding whether to charge fees.
A group of older universities with large clinical and research commitments, known as The Russell Group, is most likely to start charging.
The group includes Oxford and Cambridge and long-established civic universities such as Manchester and Birmingham.
Tuition fees for home students, paid by the Government through local authorities, range from Pounds 750 a year for classroom-based activities to Pounds 2,800 for clinical courses.
Overseas students pay higher fees which reflect the true cost, ranging from Pounds 6,000 to Pounds 15,000 a year.