OXFORD and Cambridge universities will keep the college fee next year because there is not enough time left to scrap it. The two universities have been told the fee will remain in 1998-99 for practical reasons.
But they have been warned not to read anything into how this will affect what happens to the fee in future years. And they will not know exactly what it means in cash terms for a couple of months because fees can be calculated in different ways.
While Oxbridge will find out their overall budgets when the Higher Education Funding Council for England publishes allocations early next month, it usually takes them until at least May to work out the fee element.
For the past few years increases in fees have been geared to grant levels in a handful of other research universities. But last year the government chose to cut the percentage increase awarded in this way by more than half, keeping it in line with the 1 per cent increase across the whole sector.
An Oxford University spokeswoman said: "We have heard it is unlikely there will be any change for the next academic year."
George Reid, chairman of the fees committee at Cambridge, said: "We don't read anything into all this except that the decision is taking up a lot of time. But we assume it will mean that the status quo will reign for another year."