When the funding crisis first hit higher education, six universities said they might have to charge extra top-up fees to meet their costs and said so in their prospectuses. Four of those universities are still refusing to rule out extra fees on the grounds that they don't yet know how much cash they will have for the year 1998-99.

They are Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and Bristol. Tony Giddens, director of the London School of Economics, says it has ruled out top-up fees for the foreseeable future. "We have no plans to introduce them," he says. Nottingham University has also dropped the idea.

A spokeswoman for Bristol said it was not proposing to charge top-up fees in 1998 but was keeping its options open. "We are waiting to see what the Government decides on money," she said.

Durham's vice chancellor, Professor Evelyn Ebsworth, said he believed top-up fees to be thoroughly undesirable but could not rule them out until next March, when he would know how much his university would receive in its block grant.

Oxford and Cambridge are special cases because they face possible reduction or abolition of the college fees paid by the government for their tuition system and for pastoral care and other college facilities. They are unlikely to know what has been decided about college fees until the end of the year. That is why they are not ruling out having to charge students extra.