Imperial College London has become the first university in England to formally announce that it wants to charge the maximum level of tuition fees.
Imperial, a world-famous science institution, plans to charge £9,000 for all subjects from 2012.
Cambridge University has proposed fees of £9,000, but it has still to complete its decision-making process.
Imperial College will now have to provide details of support for poorer students to the Office for Fair Access.
The central London college, one of the country's top-rated universities, says it wants to charge maximum fees to "maintain the excellence of the education we provide to students".
After the government raised the limit for tuition fees for universities in England from 2012, individual institutions have been holding internal discussions about how much they should charge.
Details are beginning to emerge, with Cambridge moving a step closer on Monday to adopting fees of £9,000, when its council backed a recommendation for maximum fees.
Imperial College, one of the country's top-rated institutions, has become the first to unequivocally set out its intention to charge the top level of fees.
It will now have to decide what package of financial support will be available to students from low-income families.
"Our message to the outside world though must be that for those who can manage Imperial's courses, the college will work to ensure they can manage its costs," says a statement from the rector, Keith O'Nions.
Imperial, specialising in science, medicine and engineering, has performed strongly in international league tables.
Before MPs voted on the fee increase, there had been claims that the top level of fee would only be charged in "exceptional circumstances".
But there are already signs that leading universities intend to charge at the upper level of fees.
Oxford University says that it will need to charge at least £8,000 per year to replace the budgets that are being cut.
There have been suggestions that if universities such as Imperial, Cambridge and Oxford opt for the highest level of fee, it will make it harder for other leading universities to charge less.
Cambridge's review of fees warned that charging less than the top rate would raise questions about their commitment to quality.
But there have been warnings from the government that universities should not all expect to be able to charge the maximum amount - not least because of the cost of student loans.
Any universities wanting to charge more than £6,000 will need to reach agreement with the Office for Fair Access.
But universities have argued that they face deep cuts to their teaching budgets and need to charge tuition fees above this level to maintain their current funding.
Universities will be submitting their fees plans in the next few weeks, with the final outcome on fee levels expected to appear in the summer.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said any university that wants to charge more than £6,000 would need to show how they met tough new conditions in an approved access agreement with the Office for Fair Access.
A spokesperson said: "When deciding on the charges they intend to make for courses, the government expects that universities must look for efficiencies and keep their costs to students as low as possible."