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Universities warned over preventing graduation because of debt

UK Universities

By Adrian Polglase

A report by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) warned universities last month that terms and conditions that prevent students who owe non-tuition fee debts from graduating could breach consumer protection law.

The report, published on 18 February, showed that approximately three quarters of the 115 UK universities surveyed by the OFT enforce such conditions, which could also prevent students from enrolling into their next academic year or using certain university facilities.

Non-tuition fee debts can include library fines, university accommodation and childcare services.

In a letter sent to 170 universities and higher education institutions, the OFT has asked for a review of such rules and practices, urging the revision of them where required.

The regulator has also expressed further concern that some of these existing terms can allow institutions to impose sanctions on students who owe only small amounts or are disputing their debt.

The investigation was opened in July 2013 following a complaint from the National Union of Students (NUS), who welcomed the report.

Colum McGuire, NUS vice president (welfare) commented, “It’s almost laughable that students who are in thousands of pounds of tuition fee debt were having academic sanctions placed on them for money owned for non-academic debt”.

Queen Mary University of London, which currently withholds official graduate certificates and transcripts if a student has an unpaid ‘academic debt’, defended its position by stating that these students are still entitled to receive informal notifications of their results.

“The recent OFT report has been discussed within the Academic Registry and Council Secretariat at Queen Mary, and will be discussed by other departments, as a priority, over the coming weeks.”

The OFT has stated that the results of this investigation will be fed into its call for information into the provision of undergraduate higher education in England. (London Student)

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