Red tape hitch to fees

October 17, 1997

The European Commission has warned that too much red tape from fee-charging for higher education in Britain could lead to legal challenges.

The office of Mario Monti, the commissioner with responsibility for internal market regulations, said this week that it would be unacceptable if continent students were faced with a disproportionate amount of bureaucracy as a result of the Pounds 1,000 annual fee that all EU students attending British universities will have to pay from next year.

Mr Monti's spokeswoman said fee charging in itself was unlikely to be a problem if the same fee applied to all EU students. But if it could be shown that some students were affected by more red tape than British students, the matter could be referred to the European Court of Justice.

"There must be no discrimination in the way conditions apply to students from different countries, and there should not be a disproportionate amount of red tape for students going to Britain from another member state. The level of red tape must be shown to be justified," she said.

The comments came after Edith Cresson, commissioner for education, training, research and youth, signalled her concern about the potential impact of fee-charging on student mobility. She said problems that arose would be a matter for Mr Monti's office to consider.

Most of the concerns about extra bureaucracy have focused on the prospect of the British government attempting to means-test the parents of EU students wanting to study at United Kingdom universities.

The National Union of Students has said it wants the commission to examine the fees issue closely.

But Graham Lane, who chairs the Local Government Association's education committee, has dismissed this as a "red herring".

The rules for fee-charging would be straightforward and applied uniformly across the EU, and there would be no need for means-testing outside of Britain, he said.

"Since we will not be extending student loans to students from outside Britain, means-testing will not be an issue. What means-testing there is will be a rough and ready affair anyway. The Pounds 1,000 fee will apply to all EU students and that is all there is to it," he said.

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