Students who withdraw from one university and transfer to another could be liable to pay double tuition fees because of a legislative anomaly.
Daniel Rees, 19, a former Bath Spa University College student, withdrew from a BA in creative music technology after one-and-a-half days. He transferred to the University of the West of England, but has since received a means-tested bill for Pounds 425 for a year's fees from Bath Spa. As a registered student at UWE, he must also pay Pounds 425 tuition fees.
Mr Rees admits that he did not read all the small print when completing the Bath Spa registration forms, which required him to pay tuition fees even if he withdrew. When the course failed to live up to his expectations after less than two days, he decided to change institutions.
But he did not expect to receive a bill for a full year's fees, after attending for such a short time.
His parents supported his decision to withdraw from the course, and were shocked to find there was no reasonable leeway for students to pull out without having to pay up. They have since taken up the fees issue with Bath Spa.
"It seems extremely harsh that there is no period after registration day during which students can change their minds. We are sure there are many students who quickly realise that they are on the wrong course and need to change. It would appear they no longer have freedom of choice," wrote Peter and Linda Rees, Daniel's parents, in a letter to The THES.
Jon Brady, Bath Spa's director of finance and commercial activities, directed The THES to the university's tuition fees policy, which states that fees are payable on registration and are "not normally refundable".
In line with Department for Education and Employment recommendations, mandatory awards can be salvaged if the student withdraws within 20 weeks, but the student's contribution must be paid. In contrast, UWE offers a 21-day grace period, allowing students to withdraw and still receive a full refund.
Guidelines issued by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals last month advised institutions to split transfer fees according to the number of weeks completed at either institution.
Policies on student withdrawal should be made clear at the outset, said the CVCP. But it added that an institution choosing to retain tuition fees should "keep no more than it would have received had the student transferred".
The CVCP acknowledges that higher education institutions are free to implement their policies.
A National Union of Students spokesman said: "This student is trapped in a loophole of an inflexible system. It is crucial that students start their university experience with a full understanding of what they need to pay and what they get for it. This is an example of hidden costs of the worst kind."