All universities will charge tuition fees of £9,000 to avoid being labelled as a "low quality" institution, research suggests.
Under Government proposals for student funding published earlier this month, universities will be able to charge £6,000 per year in fees from 2012, and up to £9,000 a year in "exceptional circumstances."
But a study by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) concludes that £9,000 will become the norm within a few years.
It says: "Those institutions that are over-subscribed will charge £9000 without hesitation. Those that have struggled to recruit students will initially be more cautious, but, within a few years, we believe that almost all universities will charge the maximum £9000 fee.
"No doubt, as now, some further education colleges will charge less than the maximum, and so may a small number of higher education institutions, but our expectation is that the great majority of students will be charged the maximum fee within a few years."
The study says that £3,000 top-up fees introduced in 2006 did not introduce a market into higher education.
There are good reasons for institutions to charge the maximum, the study said. "Charging lower fees risks being identified as a low quality or low prestige institution."
In addition, higher fees will mean universities are able to access further public funding, and if demand from students is low, then institutions can simply use the extra revenue for bursaries and scholarships, it says.
Under the Government's plans, universities that want to charge over £6,000 will have to show clear plans of how they intend to ensure poorer students are not priced out. The HEPI report says this is unlikely to deter universities from charging maximum fees, saying they will do whatever they have to to satisfy the requirements, which will be approved by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).
It says: "No university has yet failed to satisfy OFFA, and there is no reason to expect any to do so in future. There is, therefore, every reason to expect most universities to increase their fees towards £9000 - not immediately, but over time."