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Students at Russell Group universities billed £7 million in library fines over past decade

King’s have charged students over £850,000 since 2012


Russell Group universities have charged students more than £7 million in library fines and late fees in the last decade.

Since 2012/13, the UK’s most prestigious universities have billed students at least £7,160,113 in fines, according to Freedom of Information request responses from 20 of the 24 members of the Russell Group obtained by The Tab.

The figure is believed to be even higher as seven of the 20 universities could not provide the data stretching back the full 10 years due to internal changes as to how they record the data. 

However, all of the universities could provide data for the past five academic years which shows students were collectively fined just shy of £2 million (£1,988,102).

The University of Birmingham has fined students the most in the past five years, doling out £240,850 in fines and late fees. 

Equally stringent fines were handed out by King’s College London (£224,552), Durham (£186,587), Nottingham (£186,500), Edinburgh (£183,381) and Oxford (£182,638). 

The data does however show a shift away from the punitive measures as multiple universities have stopped charging library fines altogether in recent years, some stopping at the start of the pandemic and others in response to the cost of living crisis. 

In 2012/13, despite only receiving data from 13 of the Russell Group universities, students were fined £1.1 million. Across 20 universities, last year’s students were fined collectively £119,500.

Last year’s figures show students at Sheffield, Durham, Queen Mary, York and Bristol were fined absolutely nothing for the late returns or for not returning their books at all. 

Bucking the trend were Birmingham and Nottingham who hit their students with £44,427 and £24,233 worth of fines respectively.

University of Birmingham pointed out to The Tab, whilst it billed students almost £50k in fines, the uni didn’t actually collect anywhere close to this amount – students only paid up £1,160 last year.

A spokesperson for the University of Nottingham defended the university’s position saying any collected fines are reinvested into hardship funds for students. Borrowed books are automatically renewed unless they are requested by someone else so fines are only incurred when a book is overdue and requested by another student.

“The Students’ Union has approved the approach we are taking, but we are always looking at ways to improve our services and would be happy to undertake further consultation with our students around this,” they added.

“The Students’ Union has approved the approach we are taking, but we are always looking at ways to improve our services and would be happy to undertake further consultation with our students around this,” they added.

You'll now only be charged for a UofG book if it's lost, or overdue AND recalled (held) by someone else.

Some fines & charges still apply to Inter Library Loans: https://t.co/2UJf09gPd2 pic.twitter.com/4sxb8ttt75

— University of Glasgow Library (@uofglibrary) February 2, 2023

In an email to students, Susan Ashworth, executive director of information services said: “The library is playing its part in recognising the issues students face.”

“Removing the overdue fines penalty system is a measure of support in a difficult time. This allows full use of the library for students at all times which positively impacts on the student experience year round.”

The move was also adopted by the University of Exeter who removed charges for all overdue books from 1st October last year to ease the financial pressure on students.

A spokesperson for Cambridge University Libraries told The Tab: “With regards to the list of fines across the UL [University Library] and Faculty and Departmental Libraries more generally, since the beginning of the first COVID lockdown in March 2020, all fines have been waived daily for users at Cambridge University Libraries.

“The reasons behind this were to make library services more equitable and inclusive, aiming to reduce student anxiety and potential sources of confrontation, and allowing our dedicated and specialist library staff to devote more of their time across Collegiate Cambridge to supporting student needs.”

The information was either not held or no response was received from the University of Southampton, University of Leeds, Newcastle University or LSE.

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