University tuition fees are to be compared across the European Union following implementation of an EU council regulation to extend the scope of the harmonised index of consumer prices.
The regulation extends the existing indices of consumer prices into the health, education and social protection sectors early next year. It is an attempt by the European Commission to perfect a yardstick for comparing prices across the EU in the drive towards monetary union.
The education cost index will apply - as far as possible - to tuition only.
In Britain the figures will be supplied and published by the Office of National Statistics. "We shall be including university and private education fees, drawn from administrative sources," said a ONS spokeswoman.
The figures for university fees will come from the Department for Education and Employment and for private education from the Independent Schools Information Service.
Where such fees include costs, other than education, that can be separated, this will be done by the EU statistics agency Eurostat, which will publish the figures under all the separate headings for all 15 member states.
The first data from the ONS will relate to January 2000 and will be published the following month in the official bulletin First Release.
Although the scale of fees for private and university education is already in the public domain, this will mark the first time they have been published as part of a price index that will be updated monthly.
Commission officials said the primary purpose was to improve comparisons between overall consumer price inflation in the EU member states, which was of special relevance to the 11 countries participating in the single currency.
"It's true that the indices could allow some comparison to be made of education costs across the EU, but given the differences in education systems, variations in prices are to be expected and it will certainly not be the commission's intention to draw conclusions about differences in this area," said a spokesman for Pedro Solbes, the commissioner for monetary affairs.