Durham University said on Wednesday that it intends to charge tuition fees of £9,000 from 2012. Leeds University and the University of Liverpool have also announced their decision to charge the maximum fees.

Professor Chris Higgins, Durham’s Vice-Chancellor, justified the decision by citing his belief in the “life-long rewards” of a degree from Durham University, and the employability of its graduates.

He added, “With our plans for a generous and flexible programme of financial support, we aim to ensure that affordability will not be a barrier to Durham attracting the best and brightest students.”

The decision has been endorsed by the University’s Students’ Union president, Sam Roseveare, who commented, “competition for places in several subjects is the highest in the UK and a Durham degree is worth the investment.

“We will now be looking to the University to fulfil its commitment to providing further enhancements to student services and facilities.”

However, the move has not been greeted warmly by all of Durham’s students, one of whom told Cherwell, “I think it’s an awful decision. £9,000 is too much, and students are going to start thinking twice about coming here.”

A spokeswoman for the University of Liverpool said that the recommendation of £9,000 fees would be put to a university council meeting on the 30th March, as it “will enable the institution to continue to invest in and enhance the student experience, as well as maintain its position as a leading Russell Group institution for widening access.”

Commenting on the decision to the BBC, National Union of Students Vice-President Usman Ali said, “It comes as absolutely no surprise that Liverpool University has joined the ever-growing £9,000 group….The government has completely failed to put any restrictions, or even disincentives, in place to stop universities asking for as much money as possible from students.”

Professor Malcom Povey, a Leeds University lecturer and member of the University and College Union, said, “The logic of setting up this pseudo-market is that everybody is driven towards charging the highest fee….Students will make judgements…if the fee is lower they will think it is inferior.”

Seven universities have now made the decision to charge the maximum fees, including Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and Exeter.

David Willets, the government’s Universities Minister, had previously commented that the £9,000 threshold would be charged only in “exceptional cases”. The government has warned that if too many universities charge the top fees it may have to cut teaching grants further to cover the cost of student loans.

Labour’s Universities spokesman, Gareth Thomas, has calculated that if all universities charge the top rate, the government’s shortfall will reach £777 million.

Other universities, including UCL, Bristol and Southampton, are to make their decisions on tuition fees shortly.