University debt policy causes financial headaches

Louise Wilson

A small number of students have found themselves facing financial problems before the semester has even started due to the University’s debt policy.

The policy outlines that any student with outstanding debt cannot register via MyCampus. This has left some students in a circle of debt; unless a student is registered at the University, they cannot receive financial aid from SAAS or the Student Loans Company and, therefore, remain unable to pay off the debt and unable to enrol in their chosen courses.

Complications in the implementation of MyCampus in previous years led the University to create a clause allowing students who owed less than £250 to register temporarily. Debts could be paid off at a later date when a student was in a better financial situation.

A University spokesperson explained that this was only a “short-term measure” whilst staff dealt with a backlog of registration problems. This year the clause has been repealed and the University has reverted to their usual debt policy, which states:

“All debts, including tuition fees, examinations fees, bench fees, accommodation debts and library debts must be cleared before you will be permitted to register for the next year of study.”

No members of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) were consulted about the removal of the clause. Executives have criticised the decision and called on the University to keep the altered policy in place. Requests have, however, been thus far unsuccessful.

Kayleigh Fraser, a student returning to Glasgow after having taken a year out, was one individual who faced a fine of nearly £100 and could not enrol. She explained: “Once my library fines eventually clear I’ll be fully registered to start back again in September. Long story short, I took some books out to use for dissertation research before I made the decision to drop out for the year. I’d forgotten to take them back and only realised when I went to enrol for my Honours year and couldn’t because I have an outstanding amount. The fine is just short of £100. The library has agreed to reduce it to £14 if I return the books. I’m pretty lucky that I still have them because I definitely wouldn’t have been able to afford the big fine until my SAAS loan payments start again.”

However, not everyone will be able to come to such an agreement with the University. Although a University spokesperson acknowledged that they would consider “exceptional circumstances”, the policy on the whole will remain in place.

A note on the University website reveals exceptional circumstances may lead to a student having to stop studying at the University until full repayment is reached: “The University may accept a repayment plan, but you may still be required to suspend your studies until the debt is cleared.”

Jess McGrellis, SRC President, believes this stance is unfair in the current economic climate. She said: “Of course it’s crucial that the University is in a good financial position, but it seems ridiculous that a student may be forced to discontinue with their studies because they have an outstanding library fine or an accommodation debt that they simply can’t afford to pay back at that time or before accessing their student loan. In a climate where many students face mounting financial difficulties with tuition fees, rising accommodation costs and living expenses, the University should be trying to minimise their financial problems, not add to them.

“The SRC is deeply frustrated by the University’s decision to remove the policy clause that allowed students to enrol with under £250 of debt. This clause, which was only implemented last summer, was removed without any consultation with the SRC and we are still in the dark about why this decision was reversed.”

On top of these issues, some students have also been receiving correspondence from the University demanding repayment for small amounts. One student from Hong Kong received a letter asking for repayment of a debt of £3.62 from the 2009-10 academic year – a cost almost certainly weighed out by the cost of staff time spent chasing up the debt and the cost of posting a letter to Hong Kong.

Another student from within the EU received a letter stating: “Despite several reminders according to our records, your account remains seriously overdue for payment and you have not been in contact to dispute the overdue balance.” The student later found out the amount totalled £4.80, an outstanding debt for accommodation from 2011-12.

The SRC have also been approached by some people who had never enrolled for courses at the University and are being chased for ‘phantom debts’.

A spokesperson for the University clarified the official stance on their debt policy: “The policy of the University of Glasgow has always been that students with outstanding debts are unable to register or graduate.

“Last year, because of the backlog of administrative work associated with introducing the new student system, the University did allow students with debts of £250 or less to register and graduate. This was a short-term measure, for one year only.

“It is important that debts are settled to enable the University to offer the same, fair and consistent treatment to all students.”

If you are facing problems with debt, it is advised that you approach the SRC Advice Centre or contact the University immediately.