The Glasgow Guardian has discovered that the University of Glasgow is overcharging students who are about to graduate with their compulsory membership fee to the General Council.
The University of Glasgow has received a surplus of 38% and 42% for the academic years 2013-2014 and 2012-2013 respectively from the General Council fee. This is a compulsory fee that all students graduating from the University of Glasgow must pay in order to enrol as a member of the General Council and also gives former students the benefit of the biannual alumni magazine, Avenue.
The General Council is a statutory body that all the ancient universities of Scotland have in place, as a result of the Universities (Scotland) Act 1858 (1996). This instituted the General Council, the University Court and the Academic Senate and it is the responsibility of the Council to take into consideration all questions affecting the well-being and prosperity of each university.
When asked about the surplus from the General Council Fee, a spokesman for the University of Glasgow said: “The income generated by the £60 fee covers the costs of the General Council administration, contributes to the production costs of Avenue and new graduate cards. Any surplus is used by the University as part of our general funds to support students and academics.”
The spokesman for the University commented further on the benefits that were available to graduates as a result of this fee and highlighted: “Membership of the General Council allows graduates to play a part in the governance of the University, attend the twice-yearly meetings of the General Council, benefit from an increasing number of varied events for alumni, and entitles members to a number of discounts including on PGT programmes, in the shop, library and sport and recreation. Members are also entitled to use the Careers Service for two years after graduating and receive the twice-yearly alumni publication Avenue.”
However, some students feel as though the fee is too expensive. A former graduate who obtained her Masters in Sociology last year spoke to the Glasgow Guardian about her issue with the General Council Fee and how the cost of it had meant she was unable to afford to rent her graduation robes. She stated: “This one-off fee of £60 is excessive and unfair. I’m surprised that the University is able to justify spending hundreds of thousands of pounds a year on printing and distributing a magazine when hundreds of staff have experienced real-terms pay cuts and many continue to be employed via precarious zero hours contracts. Their own figures also show that a lot of the money taken from students isn’t being spent and it’s unclear if those funds are being used elsewhere.”
She went on to state: “To charge a flat, upfront fee of £60 takes no account of students’ circumstances. Students at Glasgow come from a range of backgrounds and this fee takes no account of ability to pay. For a lot of us, £60 is quite a lot of money and for me it meant I had no money left to rent robes so can’t attend my graduation ceremony. I think the university management really needs to reconsider whether this policy is in the best interests of students or the institution as a whole.”
Meanwhile, another former graduate from the University of Glasgow spoke to the Glasgow Guardian about his annoyance with regards to the compulsory fee, particularly given the improbability of his participation in the General Council and stated: “I was surprised upon completing 4 years of university at the cost of more than £6,000 albeit funded by the Scottish Government, that the University would have the cheek to ask me to pay to become a member of their General Council purely for the purposes of graduating. No information was supplied regarding the General Council, or even what it was. I think being forced to become a member of a club that I will most likely never participate in is pointless.”
The University of Glasgow is at this time the most expensive of the ancient universities to graduate from. St Andrews currently charge £50 to graduate, the University of Dundee charge £40 and the University of Aberdeen charge £45. University of Edinburgh do not charge a fee despite also having a General Council.
The current structure of the ancient universities is currently under threat however as a result of recommendations published by the Scottish Parliament, which argue that Scottish university chairs should face elections for their positions, in an attempt to make the highest levels of university governance accountable.