What the top-up fee regulations say

March 26, 1999

The regulations under section 28 of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 spell out how much institutions can charge in extra fees without having part, or all, of their block grant clawed back by the secretary of state. The fee level is set at Pounds 1,025.

Who has to pay?

New full-time home and European Union undergraduates, but no postgraduates, became eligible to pay tuition costs this academic year. Students on initial teacher training courses also have to pay. The act can only regulate institutions in respect of the fee income they receive from students in these categories who are eligible for publicly funded fee support (Pounds 1,025 a year maximum). The act cannot regulate fee income from privately-funded (non-EU) students. These students pay for the full cost of their tuition.

Which institutions are regulated?

All institutions funded by the English, Welsh and Scottish funding councils, the Department for Education in Northern Ireland and the Teacher Training Agency. Further education colleges funded by the Further Education Funding Council are also covered.

What can universities charge for?

The DFEE's starting point is that there is no standard legal definition of fees. Only a court can give an authoritative ruling on what constitutes fees for the purposes of the act. The act defines fees as those paid "in respect of, or otherwise in connection with, attendance on the course including admission, registration, tuition and graduation". The regulations will explain what this definition is not likely to cover. The consultation document proposes the following exemptions: (i) Charges for goods and services solely for students' convenience and not integral to their course (eg fees charged for a language or computer keyboard skills course that are not examinable).

(ii) Goods and services over and above core provision. Core provision can be taken broadly as tuition, goods and services integral to a student doing the course as advertised in the prospectus. Therefore, in addition to extra study modules, universities might be able to charge for studio costs and technical facilities.

(iii) Goods that are integral to a course but that a student can keep (eg a stethoscope or wetsuit); materials and goods that a student has had to buy from the university but could sell (eg material to make a sculpture or jewellery); a fee covering non-standard administration necessary because a student is in default; a joining fee to a body, such as a professional association, to qualify.

The proposed regulations also say that, while small and long-standing fees may also be exempt (eg photocopying), new and more substantial fees students have to pay are likely to be covered by the act, and so charging them could lead to penalties. This would not seem to preclude universities expanding non-core activities for which they could legitimately charge extra.

Further education Colleges cannot charge 16 to 18-year-olds on full-time further education courses any fees as a condition of receiving funding.

General Extra fees should not generate profit. Institutions are advised to put them in prospectuses and other information.

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