Lawyers in for a field day

November 21, 1997

The Oxbridge college fees debate is coming to the boil. Harriet Swain reports on the issues at stake

IF ANYTHING new is decided about college fees, it will present a legal minefield, education lawyers have warned.

The right of colleges to charge fees is embedded in their statutes, which may be a problem if the government tries to stop them asking students to make up the money.

In addition, rules concerning fees have developed haphazardly over hundreds of years and are now a tangle of different clauses.

John Boardman, head of education at Eversheds North, said: "It is an incredibly complicated issue and one which throws up all kinds of legal difficulties."

For example, unlike universities, colleges cannot levy different fees from overseas and home students.

Attempts to make wealthier colleges subsidise poorer ones more formally could run into difficulties with charity law, while the risk of poorer colleges going bankrupt could raise legal difficulties, which have not yet been explored.

Finally, ministers will have to work out whether to pass an Act of Parliament to implement any decision on fees, or whether they can simply do it through statutory instruments, which would be much quicker.

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