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Universities warned over preventing graduation because of debt

By London Student, National News

A report by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) warned universities last month that terms and conditions that prevent students who owe non-tuition fee debts from graduating could breach consumer protection law.

The Office of Fair Trading has warned universities preventing students from graduating became of debt could breach consumer law.

The report, published on 18 February, showed that approximately three quarters of the 115 UK universities surveyed by the OFT enforce such conditions, which could also prevent students from enrolling into their next academic year or using certain university facilities.

Non-tuition fee debts can include library fines, university accommodation and childcare services.

In a letter sent to 170 universities and higher education institutions, the OFT has asked for a review of such rules and practices, urging the revision of them where required.

The regulator has also expressed further concern that some of these existing terms can allow institutions to impose sanctions on students who owe only small amounts or are disputing their debt.

The investigation was opened in July 2013 following a complaint from the National Union of Students (NUS), who welcomed the report.

Colum McGuire, NUS vice president (welfare) commented, “It’s almost laughable that students who are in thousands of pounds of tuition fee debt were having academic sanctions placed on them for money owned for non-academic debt”.

Queen Mary University of London, which currently withholds official graduate certificates and transcripts if a student has an unpaid ‘academic debt’, defended its position by stating that these students are still entitled to receive informal notifications of their results.

“The recent OFT report has been discussed within the Academic Registry and Council Secretariat at Queen Mary, and will be discussed by other departments, as a priority, over the coming weeks.”

The OFT has stated that the results of this investigation will be fed into its call for information into the provision of undergraduate higher education in England.

Adrian Polglase, London Student: Issue 8 (10/03/2014)

Students fight closure of school at Kingston University

By London Student, National News


Angry students and staff have protested against the closure of Kingston University’s School of Surveying and Planning.

Last Tuesday around 60 people rallied against proposals which would involve six of the school’s courses being scrapped, with seven others being moved to various faculties.

The School of Surveying and Planning at Kingston University is set to close.

A petition opposing the closure with over 1,000 signatures was handed to the university’s board during the 4 March protest.

Dr Sarah Sayce, the head of the school, was suspended after emailing students information about a consultation process on the plans, which could mean students having to complete their studies at other universities.

Denza Gonsalves, president of Kingston University Students’ Union (KUSU), said: “Over 500 students will be directly affected in terms of their course moving faculty or closing down completely, and of course that’s of massive concern.”

Will Franden, KUSU vice president, highlighted concerns about the movement of faculties, telling River Online: “Students are worried about whether those faculties and lecturers will be fully qualified to teach them to the same standard as staff within the [existing] school.”

Julius Weinberg, the university’s vice-chancellor, said that the plans were motivated by low National Student Survey scores and poor recruitment figures.

However, building surveying student Nick Beers told River Online the school was not to blame for low recruitment numbers: “The independent report commissioned by the vice chancellor highlights the fact that no money has been spent on recruitment on the school as a whole, so to blame recruitment figures… is ridiculous.”

An open meeting with the dean of the university’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture is due to take place on Wednesday 12 March.

Adrian Polglase, London Student: Issue 8 (10/03/2014)

Teaching staff take further strike action

By London Student, National News, University of London News
Deptford Town Hall

Deptford Town Hall

University academic and support staff held a second strike over pay last Tuesday, following previous action on 31 October, with student at one University of London college staging an occupation in support.

Members of four unions – the University and College Union (UCU), Unite, Unison and the Educational Institute of Scotland – formed picket lines all over the country on 3 December, opposing a 1% pay rise offer which they say constitutes a 13% real terms cut sincere 2008.

Last Tuesday’s action forced the University of London to shut Senate House Library and caused class cancellations across the city.

The strike also say Goldsmiths students occupy Deptford Town Hall, which houses university management offices, in support of the strikers. Around 100 students moved in last Monday evening, with around 30 saying until 12pm the following day.

Their occupation came after other by students in Sheffield, Edinburgh, Sussex, Ulster, Birmingham and Exeter.

In a statement, the occupiers said managers should look to their own incomes to find savings. “The university sector has the biggest pay disparity of all public sectors, with the gender pay gap widening with every new government policy of marketisation”.

In an open letter to Pay Loughrey, Goldsmiths’ warden, members of the university’s UCU brand wrote: “While salaries of lecturers and support staff have declined in real terms, the same cannot be said of the warden who has recently been awarded a 9% pay rise and benefits from a pension contribution far in excess of the annual salary of most support staff”.

A Goldsmiths press officer response to UCU’s letter by emphasising that of the four years Loughrey has been warden, he has only accepted a pay rise in one of them, making his average yearly pay increase just over 2%.

He also claimed that Loughrey was “well below average” in league tables comparing university head’s salaries with seventy others earning more than him.

Adrian Polglase and Nicholas Winchester, London Student: Issue 5 (09/12/2013)

London universities airbrushed Wikipedia pages

By London Student, National News


Two London universities have been deleting negative information and finessing critical passages on their respective institution’s Wikipedia pages, a Times Higher Education investigation discovered.

In August, London Metropolitan University’s press office deleted comments made last year by Malcolm Gillies, their vice-chancellor, in which he considered a campus alcohol ban because conservative Muslim students considered the substance “immoral”.

The magazine’s investigation also found that the University of Arts London’s press office edited passages on their Wikipedia page in May 2012. They gave a section describing staff and course cuts a more positive spin, ending with: “the university has consolidated and is looking to the future with cautious optimism”.

The first-party ‘airbrushing’ of these articles breaks the online encyclopaedia’s guidelines and the site’s administrators have since banned London Met’s account for “promotional editing”.

Sections deleted by the university have since been reinstated by other Wikipedia users, although between November 2012 and March this year, anonymous users with IP addresses traceable to London Met’s location have attempted to re-delete the comments.

Adrian Polglase, London Student: Issue 5 (09/12/2013)

Government begins to sell-off student loan book

By London Student, National News

Student Loans

The British government has sold student loans with a face value of £890m for just £160m to a private debt purchaser renowned for its persistent debt recovery practices.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) announced the sale, which covers loans to around 250,000 students who started courses between 1990 and 1998, to a consortium named Erudio Student Loans.

The price paid by Erudio reflects their assessment of the proportion of loans likely to be paid back in full or in part, with the majority of the book in arrears or deferred.

The consortium is led by investment fund manager CarVal Investors and debt purchasing group Arrow Global.
Following this decision, George Osborne announced in his autumn statement that “new loans will be financed by selling the student loan book”.

A spokesperson from BIS confirmed to the Independent that student loans taken out between 1998 and 2012 have “the potential” to be sold “over the next five years”.

If privatised, the sale of the loan book would deliver roughly £10-15 billion to the government over a five-year period, although any future repayments of capital and interest from the loans sold would be lost.

In both instances, BIS have claimed that there will be no change to borrowers’ terms and conditions, including to the interest rates charged.

But Michael Chessum, the University of London Union president, argued students should not be reassured by the government’s promises.

He said: “There is every reason to believe that current and future governments will simply flout commitments on higher education funding, because that is what has happened consistently under both Labour and Tory governments”.

Adrian Polglase, London Student: Issue 5 (09/12/2013)

News in Brief – 16th September Issue

By London Student, National News, News In Brief

London Student Header

Student Loans Company makes fortune from calls

Over a million pounds in revenue was raised by the Student Loans Company (SLC) from 0845 numbers over the last five years. The numbers can charge up to 41p a minute from mobiles, leaving some students and graduates out of pocket. The SLC has attempted to justify the money made by claiming that the charges lessen the impact on public finances.

College drops burka ban after outrage

Birmingham Metropolitan College scrapped a ban on Muslim face veils last Thursday, less than twenty-four hours before a planned demonstration. The U-turn came after a petition opposing the ban received over eight thousand signatures in two days. The college said it needed to introduce the ban “to be able to confirm an individual’s identity in order to maintain safeguarding and security”.

Oxford Union cancels EDL founder’s invite

English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson has had his invitation to speak at the Oxford Union cancelled after the claimed that ‘security’ costs to host him could not be covered. The Union has a reputation for inviting controversial speakers, though current president Tom Rutland welcomed the decision stating: “There is no value in inviting or hosting hate speakers in the name of ‘free speech’ when they themselves do not believe in free speech nor a free society”.

Students form credit union

Undergraduates at the University of Northampton have set up a joint initiative with the town’s Credit Union to form the first credit union for students. The new organisation, which offers financial services such as savings account and loans to students, is intended as an alternative to short-term payday loan firms.

250 lose out on York accommodation

The University of York has forced 250 undergraduate freshers to look for off-campus accommodation, after previously guaranteeing them spaces at their halls of residence. The university has offered free bus passes to the students who have branded staff as “rude” and “sarcastic”. Incoming student Abi Creak said a staff member told her to “get a mug of vodka”. She commented “how’s a mug of vodka going to help when I have no house?”.

Adrian Polglase, London Student: Issue 1 (16/09/2013)