The first evidence has emerged that several universities plan to increase their tuition fees in 2013, with three post-1992 universities among those rising to the £9,000 ceiling.
Times Higher Education surveyed many universities that set their top fees below £9,000 in 2012-13 to ask what maximum fee has been proposed for 2013-14. Of 14 that responded with their 2013 plans, eight said that they hoped to increase their maximum charges.
Heading for the £9,000 ceiling in 2013-14 are Liverpool Hope, Sheffield Hallam and York St John universities, which set 2012-13 maximum fees at £8,250, £8,500 and £8,500, respectively.
Fees for 2013 - which still cannot exceed £9,000 a year because the government did not raise the cap by inflation - remain conditional on universities reaching access agreements with the Office for Fair Access.
Cliff Allan, deputy vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, said its increase "includes an adjustment for inflation and puts us in line with comparative universities".
He added: "The rise in fee level between 2012 and 2013 will result in marginal differences in the loan amounts which graduates will then have to repay when they are earning salaries over £21,000."
The University of Derby confirmed that it plans to charge £9,000 for degrees in education in 2013-14, with fees for other degrees on a sliding scale from £7,700 to £8,800. Last year, its headline fee was £8,000.
Leeds Trinity University College said that for 2013 entry, undergraduates on two-year degrees will be charged £9,000 a year, although students pursuing a conventional three-year degree will pay a maximum of £8,000 a year, the same amount as for 2012.
Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said the scaling-back of the government's margin system - which, for 2012, deducted a portion of places from each institution and reallocated them to those charging average post-waiver fees of £7,500 or less - could be a factor in some of the fee rises.
Universities "that might otherwise have been obliged to reduce their costs don't need to do so", he said.
The government has cut its margin allocation from 20,000 to 5,000 places amid warnings from "squeezed middle" universities - stuck between the elite and lower-cost institutions - that they faced a debilitating loss of student numbers over successive years.
The survey by THE also revealed that the London School of Economics plans to hold its fees at £8,500, and is therefore likely to remain the only Russell Group university charging less than £9,000.