Vice-chancellors are "open-minded" about the need for top-up fees as they begin their radical reappraisal of higher education funding for the next decade.
The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals will consider six main funding models. Each will model a different ratio of public and private finance.
Implications for investment in teaching and research will be modelled, as will the likely effects on student access.
Independent consultants London Economics will be contracted soon to develop the models. The firm will produce a report in time for the CVCP's residential conference in September.
The CVCP plans to develop policy proposals by next spring. It will then press the government early in the next parliament for reforms based on the proposals.
CVCP policy director Tony Bruce said: "(The review) will involve looking afresh at the investment needs of the sector over the next decade.
"It will look at the range of public-private funding options available. We are really looking at a wide range of public-private options. We will be open-minded about that," he said.
But Mr Bruce was keen to distance the CVCP inquiry from a parallel funding review by the Russell Group of research-led universities. Many vice-chancellors in the group favour charging students full market-rate tuition fees.
Ivy League institutions in the United States provide one model for the Russell Group. These US universities are private, charging undergraduates thousands of dollars per year for tuition.
Mr Bruce said: "A potential difference between our study and the Russell Group's is that we are talking about a mix of public and private funding. There is a public benefit from higher education and that should be reflected in public contributions.
"Universities do receive substantial public funds and we would hope and expect that that will continue," he said.
Members of the CVCP's funding options group, chaired by Sir William Taylor, met on Wednesday to finalise London Economics' remit.
It is thought that the consultants have also been asked to look at the mechanisms used to channel money into universities. This could call into question the role of the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
Mr Bruce said: "What is the role of the funding council as opposed to a voucher system? For example, where public and private elements are combined and follow the student, rather than using a funding council as a proxy."
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