Students at universities across the UK have been fined £534,000 from 2015 to 2018, with the top reason being antisocial behaviour, a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by The Independent has revealed.
The FoI was sent to 155 universities, of which 136 have responded. They have collectively distributed 18,000 disciplinary fines, excluding library or admin penalties.
The most common reasons for fines were antisocial behaviour, noise, breaches of fire safety, smoking, and drugs-related offences.
Others include library disturbances, setting off fire alarms, throwing parties, public urination, vaping, “general untidiness” and “keeping the neighbours awake”. One student was fined for damaging a Christmas tree, and another for “dropping a glass bottle”.
The number of fines is “likely to be much higher” as 30 universities did not break down the value of the fines, and 17 “did not give full comparable data” on the annual number of issued fines.
If anyone does create a safety risk, a small fine is one approach we may consider
– University of Southampton spokesperson
There is no united policy for distributing fines. 19 universities revealed that they do not give out disciplinary fines, while others issue hundreds yearly.
From the 2015/16 to the 2017/18 academic year, the University of Nottingham issued the highest number of fines, which was 1,758. The University of Essex came next with 1,380 fines, followed by the universities of Surrey, Newcastle, and Southampton.
The institutions have expressed that fines were issued for the safety of students. A spokesperson for the University of Surrey said that “financial penalties play a proportionate part” in maintaining the “wellbeing” of students.
Commenting on the statistics, a University of Southampton spokesperson emphasised students are thoroughly informed on what behaviour could lead to fines.
They said: “If anyone does create a safety risk, a small fine is one approach we may consider; most fines are £20 and the number issued each year is extremely small compared with our total student population of 24,000.”
Universities should not be using exorbitant fines as a kind of top-up fee
– Eva Crossan Jory
The FoI found that the most expensive fine was £1,300. What the income raised from fines is spent on was not disclosed, which has concerned organisations such as the National Union of Students (NUS), in light of the Augar Review, and annual tuition fees of up to £9,250.
NUS Welfare Vice-president Eva Crossan Jory said: “Thanks to our broken funding model, students are forced to accrue excessive amounts of debt…universities should not be using exorbitant fines as a kind of top-up fee.”
She questioned the “fairness” of issuing fines, “particularly in the context of the financial hardship which many students face”, and raised the possibility that income from the fines may be used as “an additional income stream…to plug funding gaps”.
She emphasised that universities “must resist the temptation to act punitively”, and that disproportionately large fines should be reviewed.
Stressing the importance of the “appropriate use of fines”, “clear procedures”, and students’ knowledge of the code of conduct, a spokesperson for Universities UK said: “It is a matter for individual universities to determine what is acceptable or unacceptable behaviour by students.”