The Office of Fair Trading has launched an investigation after it emerged that institutions were refusing to allow students with outstanding library fines to graduate
The investigation was launched this week by the Office of Fair Trading after concerns were raised by the National Union of Students.
These concerns prompted an initial review of around 50 universities, of which half had clauses in their terms and conditions that could potentially be viewed as unfair, prompting the investigation launched this week.
These universities had clauses that would prevent students from graduating or continuing onto the next year of their studies if they still owed non-academic debt.
In addition to preventing these students from obtaining their degree, the clauses could also suspend students or cancel their registration with the institution. The universities were also in a position to cancel students’ access to facilities such as internal email or library access, despite the fact these services would have already been paid by students via their tuition fees.
The NUS vice president for Welfare Colum McGuire said: “This has been on our radar for a while and we’ve been hoping to get some action taken. We’re really excited for the full investigation.”
McQuire continued: “This came to our attention from students and unions across the country.”
Speaking to the Sunday Times, James Dolan, a Stirling University student, said: "I was thinking I had three years to pay off the amount I do owe before I graduate. Then I was told I had to come up with at least £2,000 before I would be allowed to carry on.
“There’s no way I could come up with that kind of money.”
A spokesperson for Stirling University said: “The university considers student debt issues on a case by case basis and is not able to comment on individual cases. We are aware of the Office of Fair Trading’s interest in this issue and will co-operate fully with them.”
Although the OFT launched an investigation this week, a spokesperson was keen to stress that their initial review may not be representative of the entire UK university body.
The spokesperson continued: “OFT investigation will seek to establish whether the university education market sector or individual universities are using terms and conditions to impose these sanctions for non-academic debt, whether these terms and conditions are transparent or hidden and if these are unfair and/or disproportionate.”
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