Richard Garner: Why the best option is to move north of the border

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The Independent Online

It is very much a case of "as you were" after the access regulator finished ruling on university applications to charge fees of more than £6,000 a year from next September.

Not a single university is reducing its fees, nor have any had their access agreement refused. These are designed to encourage more applications from disadvantaged students, and had to be approved before increasing fees.

Of course, if we had listened to Sir Martin Harris, director general of the Office for Fair Access until he was forced out by ill-health a month ago, we would have realised that was the case. He always maintained he had no powers to set fees – just approve or reject access agreements.

As a result, we are not really left with that much of a marketplace in university fees among English universities.

Almost all the selective or more popular universities (48 of them) are charging the maximum. All except one – the London School of Economics, the only member of the elite Russell Group to fix its fees at £8,500 a year instead of £9,000.

So the best advice could be to become a Scottish citizen – the Scottish Assembly is not charging fees for Scottish students but has announced plans to allow universities to charge students from the rest of the UK.

Alternatively, consider Wales as a destination. Last month the Welsh Assembly refused the principality's leading universities permission to charge fees of £9,000 to students from the rest of the UK.

Then again you could think about going abroad as hundreds more students are already doing. (Maastricht University has reported a tenfold increase in applications from the UK this year – its fees are £1,500 a year).

Offa is making great play of the extra help universities will be giving to the poorest individuals – aid is set to increase to £602m in the next four years.

The Government, naturally, is making great play of the fact you will not have to pay a penny up front. I am not convinced that everyone will see it that way.