Universities and colleges in two Scottish cities face bills of millions of pounds for the refurbishment of halls of residence because of an anomaly in the application of local authority housing rules.
Regulations licensing properties with six or more occupants specifically exclude all higher education institutions in England and Wales.
But Edinburgh and Aberdeen city councils have opted to apply Scottish legislation to student residences. The law was aimed at improving safety in Department of Social Security bed and breakfast properties.
Ronald Crawford, secretary of the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals, said: "We are concerned about this and are at the point of making further representations through the Scottish Office. These regulations were never intended to apply to universities."
Edinburgh University has already embarked on an estimated Pounds 3.5 million refurbishment scheme covering about 50 buildings, including the installation of more smoke and fire alarms and sinks.
"The council was not willing to grant us exemption and although we would still maintain we should be exempt, we felt there was very little we could do but comply," a spokeswoman said.
"The property was well-maintained beforehand, and it is very unfortunate that the regulations on six or more occupants have meant in some instances upgrading entire buildings where only part of the accommodation was designed for these numbers."
The cost was being met by Edinburgh and would not have an impact on hall fees. But Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen said upgrading meant student rents would rise.
"The university has written to the council expressing its view that there seems to be an unfair anomaly. It is also concerned that it is having to meet an additional expense for its student accommodation which is not imposed on many other higher education institutions," she said.
Aberdeen council has not yet begun to cost the work involved, but it was extremely unlikely to approach the costs incurred by Edinburgh University.
Colin Smith, council environmental health officer, said that while the rules were aimed at the private sector, it covered accommodation occupied by full-time students. The council felt it was fairer to treat all student accommodation on the same basis.