Glasgow University backs down on student debt policy

Students from the Universtiy of Glasgow will now be allowed to graduate despite non-tuition debt
Students from the Universtiy of Glasgow will now be allowed to graduate despite non-tuition debt
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Students will not be prevented from graduating from one of Scotland’s leading universities because of non-tuition debts following intervention from the Competition and Markets Authority. (CMA)

The University of Glasgow is the first in Scotland to agree to change a contractual term that, in the CMA’s view could “unfairly prevent” students graduating or re-enrolling if they have debts such as university halls or library fines.

The CMA’s investigation found evidence the university had written to students threatening to prevent, and in some cases then blocking, their re-enrolment until the non-tuition debts were paid, including small debts above £25.

Kate Powell, vice-president, education, of the university’s Students’ Representative Council said some students who had approached them had got into debt due to family bereavement or illness.

“We’ve been pushing and lobbying the university for around four years on this. The exact number of students affected is unknown as some drop out or take a year out when in financial difficulty. But over 30 students have approached us over the past four years and a number of them have been denied registration or graduation.”

“There are many other institutions in Scotland and the UK breaking the law. We hope this decision will serve as notice to other Scottish universities that the practice of denying graduation to students who have some kind of non- academic debt, must stop.”

Gordon Ashworth, director of consumer enforcement at the CMA, said: “As a result of a change in personal circumstances, students may get into debt. Whilst it’s right that universities are able to recover legitimate debts owed to them, they should do so in a way that is fair and proportionate.

“We welcome the university’s co-operation and constructive engagement. We are also grateful to the university’s Students Representative Council for their assistance. The CMA expects all universities to comply with consumer law by giving students accurate and timely information about their courses, treating them fairly, and enabling them to complain if things go wrong.”

A university spokesman said: “The university has altered the terms of its student debt policy following representations from CMA. The university has only ever restricted students in debt from progressing as a last resort. Last year no students were identified and this year only three have faced this sanction.”