Universities in England wanting to charge fees of £9,000 per year could have to spend £900 of that income on access for poorer students.
The Office for Fair Access (Offa) has published guidelines showing how much universities should spend on fee subsidies and outreach projects.
It sets a sliding scale ranging from 15% to 30% of fee income above £6,000.
Offa’s director, Sir Martin Harris, says poorer students might feel they “cannot afford to go to university”.
The guidelines from Offa provide the clearest rules so far on how much universities should spend on ensuring that higher tuition fees from 2012 do not exclude poorer students.
Universities which have a “low proportion of under-represented students” are being advised to spend about 30% of fees above £6,000.
This would mean that some of the most prestigious universities charging £9,000 per year would have to spend £900 of this fee income on projects to support and recruit students from poorer backgrounds.
In universities which have a “high proportion of under-represented students”, the guidelines suggest payments of 15% of anything above £6,000 – or about £450 if fees were set at £9,000.