Most new universities look set to resist the temptation to increase tuition fees for part-time students in 2006 amid fears that the market is too "fragile" to survive a hike in charges.
Campaigning for Mainstream Universities, the umbrella organisation representing post-92 universities, said that the majority of new institutions would freeze fees at their 2005 level and lose out on extra income.
Three institutions - the universities of Gloucestershire, Roehampton and East London - have decided to hold back from setting their part-time fees until later this year.
Increasing part-time fees in line with the £3,000 full-time fee next year would "jeopardise" the long-term future of part-time study, CMU warned.
Pam Tatlow, CMU chief executive, said there were concerns about whether providing part-time study would be "economic" for universities in future and said ministers had scored an "own goal of mammoth proportions" by failing to come up with a better deal for students and institutions.
Malcolm McVicar, vice-chancellor of the University of Central Lancashire, said: "We believe that the market is fragile and that any significant increase would deter large numbers of part-time students. The current policy is counterintuitive to the Government's widening participation and employment agenda and, in financial terms, cannot be sustained long term by universities.
"Without a change of policy and funding, the future of part-time provision is at risk."
John Coyne, vice-chancellor of Derby, added: "Our analysis suggests that we would not be able to move to pro rata (of the full-time) fee. The market in part-time fees has adjusted to current levels and will not move without further support.
"The flexibility associated with part-time provision is expensive to provide compared with traditional full-time undergraduate provision, and universities committed to offering this flexibility will, in any case, struggle to deliver within the income generated."
Under the Government's higher education reforms, full-time students will from 2006 pay for their tuition fees after graduation but part-timers will still be charged in advance.
Sir Martin Harris, the director of the Office for Fair Access, said: "Fees charged for part-time students are unregulated and therefore do not fall within Offa's remit. However, if institutions do decide to raise their part-time fees, it would clearly be unfortunate if people from disadvantaged backgrounds were deterred from applying on financial grounds.
"No doubt institutions will want to initiate a debate with the Government about giving part-time students access to fee loans on the same basis as their full-time colleagues."
Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, said: "We have already done more for part-time students than any other previous Government, but we recognise that concerns remain.
"Part-timers are not a uniform group and certainly not in uniform need of financial support. Nevertheless we are listening to the sector and thinking hard about how we can respond to concerns of institutions."