Faulty defaults: Glasgow Caledonian comes under fire for foreign fees policy

August 19, 2010

A university has instigated a review of its policy on the late payment of fees after it was accused of operating a "two-tier system" that penalises international students.

Last month, a lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University exposed the university's practices in dealing with students who had defaulted on tuition-fee payments.

The university admitted that it applied a stricter set of rules for international students, forcing them to withdraw from all university assessment as soon as they missed a payment.

By contrast, home students who missed an instalment were given more latitude and allowed to continue their studies as long as payment later resumed.

The university said the two-tier system had come about in response to global debt-collection rules, which meant that international students defaulting on payments posed a greater financial risk to the institution than home students - a policy affecting the entire UK academy.

But a poll of UK universities carried out by Times Higher Education, including Robert Gordon University, the University of Bath and Anglia Ruskin University, found that others treated home and overseas students in the same way.

In most cases, the universities surveyed allow some time for payments to be met before imposing sanctions. However, those with outstanding fees are not allowed to progress to the next academic year.

The National Union of Students Scotland said Glasgow Caledonian's policy "amounts to discrimination".

"This two-tier policy amounts to cracking a nut with a sledgehammer and could do serious damage to Scotland's educational reputation abroad," said Liam Burns, president of NUS Scotland.

"The reason why no other Scottish university has such a policy is that it runs against the grain of our proud history of welcoming students from around the world."

He added: "If we are going to charge international students exorbitant rates to study here, we need to show them the same flexibility that we show to domestic students when they run into unforeseen financial difficulties."

Glasgow Caledonian has now appointed a working group, including representatives from its student association, to review its policy on international student debt.

"We are confident that we will have a successful resolution of the issues raised in good time for the start of the 2010-11 academic year," a spokeswoman for the university said.

She added that no international student had been unfairly penalised because of a delay in receipt of funding from a sponsor, such as their government.

Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, said a nationwide code guiding universities on debt risk management would not be helpful, adding that it was up to institutions to ensure they behaved fairly.

"Universities are independent organisations and I think they would be very averse to any micromanagement of their systems," he said. "But their policies have to be defensible and transparent, and if any student feels that they have a right to complain, then they can."

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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