Universities face investigation after student debt delays graduation
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Universities are to be investigated by the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) amid claims they have prevented students from graduating over unpaid debt. Initial research by the UK Office of Fair Trading found half of 50 universities it sampled had potentially unfair terms and conditions which were not clear to students when matriculating, and could lead to a deluge of court cases where students have been kicked off courses or not been awarded their degrees. Student leaders have been vocal against universities withholding exam results and degrees for library fines, which in some cases have been below £100 — a small cost compared to the tens of thousands of pounds most students pay in tuition fees. Speaking to The National Student, Colum McGuire, National Union of Students vice-president (welfare), said: “Stopping someone continuing their course because of commercial debts owed under an entirely separate contract is unacceptable. We’re not talking about unpaid tuition fees or course costs here but housing and childcare debts. “Where a debt is owed of course it must be paid off but it is grossly unfair to impose repayment terms harsher than you would get from a bank if you ran into financial trouble." Documents seen by The National Student show that at least six students at the University of Dundee would have been unable to graduate between September 2012 and May 2013 because of unpaid library fines, with a total of 13 students in the same situation in 2010/11 and 2011/12. This comes despite Dundee University imposing caps on all students and staff of £15 per book, meaning the most an undergraduate student could owe at any one time being £180, based on 12 books on loan. For postgraduate students at Dundee, the maximum fine can be £270 based on 18 books, with staff capped at £470 from 30 books. External students are also subject to a capped fine of £90 based on six books. Glasgow Caledonian University, another Scottish university, also imposes caps on library fines at £5 for each book, which sees students’ accounts blocked once exceeded. However, despite issuing almost £88,000 of fines in 2011/12 and almost £57,500 from September 2012 to May 2013, unlike Dundee, no students at GCU have been prevented from graduating as a result of library fines.
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