Paying the cost for a year of action

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Serena Kutchinsky (left), 18, planned an action-packed gap year which would both improve her academic skills and allow her some time working for charity. But, because she has not yet fixed up the voluntary work, she may not qualify for the tuition fees exemption.

She still intends to take up her place to read French and History at Balliol College, Oxford, next year rather than this but she is indignant about the Government's decision.

She said: "We should have been given more notice. This should have been introduced in 1999. I'm going to go ahead with my gap year because I've always wanted to do this. I'm lucky because my parents can afford to pay my fees. But what about the people whose parents can't?"

Serena, who attended St Paul's Girls' School, an independent school in London, has fixed up a computer course and a four-month course in Paris .

She wants to teach in South America next summer but a charity has told her it could not arrange a placement so far in advance.