Sir George Quigley has suspended his inquiry into the impact of fourth-year Scottish tuition fees because of a potential clash with Scotland's own investigation into student finance.
The Quigley committee is exploring the impact of fourth-year fees on Scottish university entrants from the rest of the United Kingdom. But with the launch of a Scottish independent committee of inquiry, the future of tuition fees north of the border is uncertain.
Sir George revealed that he had cancelled the first of four sessions to collect oral evidence in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London.
"We are now on hold until we clarify what the position is regarding the Scottish inquiry," he said.
The Quigley remit was to examine the appropriateness of fee arrangements for students in Scotland from England, Wales and Northern Ireland while Scottish and other European Union students had final-year fees waived.
"The Scottish inquiry puts at least a question mark against the context in which we have been operating. It is rather difficult to take evidence about a situation when respondents might well ask, 'Why are you assuming the situation will remain as it is?'"
The Scottish inquiry is expected to report by the end of 1999, while Sir George has a statutory obligation to report by April 2000.
He said: "We have got to see to what extent we can proceed in advance of the Scottish committee reporting and some decisions being taken.
"We do not want to prejudge the outcome of the Scottish inquiry, but equally we have got to get some degree of context to do our work. Whether it is possible to square all of the circles, I am not sure."
The Quigley committee is seeking guidance from the government and Sir George said he would approach Scottish committee chairman Andrew Cubie.
"Mr Cubie was reported in The THES as saying they would want to establish contact with us. That would certainly be an excellent idea and I hope he and I can consult before too long."
But Sir George made it clear he hoped to resume work as quickly as possible. His committee has made excellent progress and has "a mass" of useful evidence.
"We still have quite a lot of time and I think we are in good shape provided the pause is not too long," he said.