Almost all universities now charge £9,000 tuition fees

When the government raised the maximum cost of tuition fees, they promised that universities would only charge £9,000 a year in "exceptional circumstances".

Ministers predicted that most universities would charge far less, leaving those levying the maximum amount looking "rather silly."

New figures from the Office for Fair Access reveal that the opposite is now the case. Seventy-six per cent of all higher education institutions are now set to charge the maximum of £9,000 for at least some courses.

If you only include universities, the figure surges to a whopping 98% with average annual tuition fees now £8,700.

In fact, at 44 of the leading universities, all courses are now set at the maximum of £9,000. Rather than looking silly for charging £9,000, universities increasingly look rather silly for charging less.

So how did the government get it so wrong?

The answer is simple if rather predictable. Ministers believed that giving universities the flexibility to charge higher fees, would allow them to compete for students with more competitive rates.

They believed (as they always believe) that 'freeing up the market' would both increase competition and drive up standards.

Defending his decision to hike fees, David Willetts said that students would become "customers" who would in turn have "much greater expectations" from universities.

"There have been universities that haven't provided the kind of proper teaching experience that students expect," he explained.

"If they try to charge anything approaching £9,000 for that, I think they will find that there are alternatives available for many young people."

The reality is completely different. Rather than providing alternatives for their "customers," universities are gradually removing those alternatives.

In every year since the government lifted the cap on tuition fees, more universities have charged higher fees, for more courses.

Charging maximum fees for courses is now no longer the exception, it is the norm. Before long there will simply be no alternative to paying the maximum fee at most universities.

The market for higher education is not just failing, it is rapidly ceasing to exist.