Talks are to begin next week aimed at resolving a row between the Government and up to 7,500 apprentices over student service charges.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn and the Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union agreed the talks should begin next Tuesday.

That will be the day after the current group of apprentices on block release begin their exams in Institutes of Technology.

The disagreement was sparked by the imposition in October's Budget of a student service fee of €833 on apprentices for each of the two ten-week courses they study.

That was almost four times what they had been charged to sit exams.

The union representing most of them, the TEEU, recommended a boycott of the charges both because of their scale and the denial by the Institutes of Technology of the services the apprentices are being asked to pay for.

However, the 12 ITs responded by warning the apprentices they would not receive their qualifications until the fees were paid.

That move would deny them access to work either at home or abroad.

Today's meeting between TEEU's General Secretary Eamon Devoy and Mr Quinn resulted in an agreement to open talks on the impasse next Tuesday.

Union sources say they will cover extending the current students' inability to pay clause to apprentices and the opening up of previously inaccessible student services.