A recent survey of Scottish colleges has found that a number of them are fining students who drop out early.
The Times Educational Supplement Scotland survey found that college students who leave between the start date of a course in August and 1 December are often subject to a fine as a result of their college's policy regarding early withdrawals. Such policies tend to be in place as no public funding for college tuition is provided until December, leaving colleges out of pocket for the tuition of students who drop out before then and in need of finding another way of funding this.
City of Glasgow College, West College Scotland, North East Scotland College and Forth Valley College all admitted in the survey to having such a policy in place. The amounts students were charged varied among these institutions. Some charged between £35 and £50 for each week the student had been on the course with a £25 administration fee for those who dropped out in the first two weeks, others said that students would be charged nothing if they dropped out within the first two weeks but would incur a £428 charge if they subsequently dropped out.
Colleges Scotland claimed that the increase in the number of early dropouts from college courses comes from the increased efforts of universities to take in students from poorer backgrounds. The body claimed that it has "traditionally been a strength of the college sector" in taking these students in. The majority of students who have paid these fines in the past several years have been those going on to higher education - the City of Glasgow College has charged 471 such students for withdrawal since 2015/16.
The President of NUS Scotland Luke Humberstone criticised the fine system saying: "When a student is at risk of dropping out the number one priority for the college should always be getting the student the support that they need to remain and succeed in education.
“There are countless reasons why a student might leave education including if they are struggling with academic, financial or welfare problems.
“While this is not necessarily the college’s fault, there is a responsibility to reach out and support students at risk of leaving rather than looking to recoup finances.”
However, a spokeswoman for Colleges Scotland pointed out that early withdrawal can be expensive for colleges, costing one college £200,000 in the past three years.
She said: “The progress of students is monitored and both proactive and reactive support structures provide extensive help to ensure that students facing challenges can address these and remain on their course.
“However, anecdotal evidence from our members would suggest an increasing number of students beginning Higher National Courses have subsequently left college to take up a late offer to go to university.
“Such movement within a system with limited places available leaves the college sector in an unsustainable financial situation.”
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