Ministers stick to fees rules

April 10, 1998

MINISTERS will clarify the position of Oxbridge colleges in relation to top-up fees when they discuss the Teaching and Higher Education bill in the Commons after Easter.

They are likely to make it clear that higher education institutions, such as Oxbridge colleges, will be penalised for raising extra fees for any publicly-funded student.

The amendment will answer arguments made by Baroness Perry of Southwark, head of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, that universities should not be penalised for decisions to charge top-up fees made by their colleges, which are autonomous.

The funding relationship between colleges and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge is set to change following the government's announcement that future college fee money will be channelled through the universities.

Baroness Perry said: "The government's announcement about what it is going to do about Oxbridge fees was the first whammy. What it has now done is close off the escape route."

But Alan Ryan, chairman of the Conference of Colleges at Oxford University, said the amendment would appear to be less an attempt to tie their hands more tightly than to make it clearer that penalties for top-up fees would relate directly to the element of public funding received.

What still needed clarification, he said, was whether other kinds of extra charges, such as for the cost of keeping up buildings, counted as top-up fees.

l In the standing committee session in the Commons this week education minister Stephen Byers guaranteed academic freedom under the new inspection regime for universities carrying out teacher training.

Mr Byers gave an assurance that Ofsted inspectors would not be able to inspect or take copies of academic or research-related documents and records other than those related directly to teacher training.

The minister supplied clarification following a question about academic freedom from shadow further and higher minister, David Willetts. Mr Byers said: "The power the chief inspector has will not be wide-ranging power covering the whole of a university. It will be targeted at the teacher training elements. In exercising powers, the HM chief inspector must do so in a way that does not deny academic freedom in universities."

Nosurf_xy Set fair: over 200 students from universities across the UK gathered on the Solent in Hampshire last weekend to take part in the British Universities Sports Association Halifax Students Windsurfing Championship.

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