In the context of the free fees initiative, the third level colleges levied a standardised charge of £150 in the 1995-6 academic year for examinations, registration and student services. This charge was fixed at a maximum of £150 for two academic years. At that time, the then Minister stated that the level of the charge would be reviewed. In the light of the arguments advanced by the universities that the true costs of the charges would on average amount to £400 in 1997-8, the need for improved student services and the fact that the charge had been frozen since 1995, I accepted that the third level institutions could increase this charge to £250 for the 1997-8 academic year. In line with the 4 per cent increase agreed for third level tuition fees for the 1998-9 academic year, I also accepted a similar increase in the level of this charge to £260. The level of the charge is subject to annual review. Students who are eligible for maintenance grants under the means tested student support schemes do not have to pay this charge.
The distribution of the charge payable by students for registration, exams and student services, is a matter for the third level institution involved. When I accepted that the third level institutions could increase this charge, I was concerned about that portion of the charge, which is intended to fund student services and in particular, the lack of transparent procedures. Accordingly, I requested the chairman of the Higher Education Authority to reconvene the working group, which was previously established to review and make recommendations on the implementation of the charge, to prepare a framework of good practice in relation to this charge, with particular reference to the principles of transparency and accountability. The Higher Education Authority issued the framework to the publicly funded third level institutions in January 1998.