Lecturers may ban debtors

July 21, 2000

Academics could be asked to bar from lectures students who have outstanding tuition fees, to help tackle mounting debts.

Universities report that they are owed increasing amounts from students as the second year of tuition-fee levies from home students nears its end. Tougher sanctions to help recover the cash are likely to follow.

Some business lecturers at Manchester Metropolitan University already refuse to teach fully self-funded students if they owe fees and the university is now considering extending the principle to home undergraduates.

Peter Jackson, chief accountant at Manchester Metropolitan, said: "We would like more departments to assist us. They have to realise it is their funding resource that is being affected.

"Academics and administrative staff in the departments haven't had to be so involved in debt collection until now. We are trying to move that way," he said.

More than Pounds 1.1 million is outstanding from students for the current year at the university, which still needs to recover Pounds 80,000 of the Pounds 618,000 that was owed this time last year.

Students at the University of Hertfordshire owe Pounds 1.6 million - Pounds 400,000 more than the amount outstanding last year. At the University of Hull, 247 students owe fees amounting to Pounds 291,000, although by next week's payment deadline this figure is expected to fall nearer the Pounds 247,000 that was owed last year.

At Staffordshire University, a total of 818 students, including some from overseas and part-timers, owe money to the university, a 50 per cent increase since last year. At the University of Bristol the number of current debtors is 900.

Until now, students with debts have been first and second years and many universities have been reluctant to press them too hard for fear that they may drop out.

Once students reach the third year this is likely to change. It becomes particularly hard to chase debts once students leave and several universities employ debt-collecting agencies.

Most universities do not allow indebted students to graduate, although new rules on data protection deny them the right to withhold degree results.

City University, which refuses to disclose the amount still owing on the grounds that it is "commercial information", denies library and IT facilities to students who do not pay. As a last resort it "deregisters" them. This means they have to pay up and re-register before they can sit exams.

Coventry University, which said debts are no worse than last year, issues students with a series of letters before finally informing them they are "blocked".

This prevents them using library or computing facilities, their exam papers will not be marked and they will not receive a degree until their fees are paid.

Lee Burton, income accountant at the University of Essex, said collecting money from the Student Loans Company is a major problem. Student debt to Essex is likely to be worse than last year at about Pounds 30,000.

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