While universities in England are to be allowed to treble their fees in 2012-13, the Scottish National Party government has pledged not to introduce fees for home students north of the border.
However, in a statement today, Mike Russell, the Scottish education secretary, said that institutions would be allowed to increase fees for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland from the current cap of £1,800, to a maximum of £9,000 a year.
Mr Russell said the government expected the average fee in Scotland to be lower than in England, suggesting a figure of around £6,375.
He added that the move would protect university places for Scottish students.
“Scotland has and always will welcome students from all over the world to our universities,” Mr Russell said.
“However, the decisions being taken in England could threaten the quality and competitiveness of our universities.
“We cannot allow Scotland to no longer be the best option and instead be known as the cheap option. We also must protect places for Scottish students.”
The National Union of Students Scotland said it opposed the “introduction of a market into Scottish higher education”, noting that the £9,000 cap could result in the quadrupling of fees for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Robin Parker, NUS Scotland president-elect, said: “Ultimate responsibility for this decision on fees lies with the Westminster government…However, in being forced to make a decision, we believe the Scottish government has made entirely the wrong choice…There’s more than an element of hypocrisy here.
"The SNP rejected a market in tuition fees for Scottish students prior to the election, only to introduce one immediately after for students from the rest of the UK.
"This seems incredibly unfair, especially when the SNP have talked so much about the importance of access to university based on ability, not ability to pay.”
The sentiment was echoed by the University and College Union Scotland, which warned that the changes “could bring chaos to the admissions system as universities attempt to set fees at different levels to maximise this extra funding stream from English students”.
Gordon Watson, UCU Scotland president, said: “UCU opposes fees and this change would go against the SNP commitment on fees.
"It is perverse that the SNP, who fought an election on the promise of no tuition fees, can justify introducing an English system for other UK students in Scotland.”