January 19, 2010 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Is it legal to levy class materials charges in scotland ?

I'm asking in particular about my class - we are a photography class and are rather baffled - we are not allowed to matriculate without paying the charge - and then we are told that we are paying for things like colour and black and white printing - but nobody did any black and white printing or colour printing.
When we questioned the charges (which are not itemised) we were told they were blanket ones and we should have used the facilities. we have max one or two students using these facilities out of about 50 - everyone prints on an epson - for which we are charged individually. If one was to just print digitally - one would still be charged the fee and the cost of digital prints on top.
As i've said, there is no itemisation in the bill, its a bit of a poll tax really - if we dont pay it they will not let us matriculate - and they say they will not let us graduate without paying this mysterious 'bill'.

So i'm wondering - is it actually legal to do this in an age of free tutition and freedom of education in european law ?
does anyone know about this or can suggest a good source ?

posted by sgt.serenity to Education (14 answers total)
Response by poster: also the fee is not meant to cover the cost of equipment for loans etc
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:06 PM on January 19, 2010

Can you tell us who runs the class? Is it local authority, a university, private company, or other?
posted by Sova at 2:09 PM on January 19, 2010

Response by poster: its a government subsidised university
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:15 PM on January 19, 2010

Does the university have an ombudsman or Student Concerns Officer?
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:18 PM on January 19, 2010

As it is a university, do you count as members of the student's union there? If so, they would be the best people to approach, as they are likely to have policies against this.
posted by Sova at 2:43 PM on January 19, 2010

Response by poster: i dont know about an ombudsman - people have been through the nus route already and nothing but vague promises about a list - which will not happen. please be assured every other route has been tried.

I cannot see how these charges can be legal - hence the question.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:44 PM on January 19, 2010

Response by poster: i'll say this again - the students union/ president has been of no help - beyond asking for a list - they have not questioned the legal basis for the charges.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:46 PM on January 19, 2010

What did the course catalog say when you signed up? If the fee was listed as part of the course up front, the fact that you didn't take advantage of what you knew you were going to be charged for, seems irrelevant.
posted by nomisxid at 3:10 PM on January 19, 2010

How about contacting the offices of your Member of Parliament (both the Scotland and UK parliaments, even)? Their constituency services people may have resources for you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:00 PM on January 19, 2010

Response by poster: Legally there are no college tuition fees in scotland - for scottish residents.
Youre talking about leaving college with an additional charge of £800 - they list it as £200 per year just before you matriculate, but it goes up.
They say you have to pay it before you start but i am wondering on what basis, as none of us have really used the materials. Darkrooms are closing the world over. And yet we are being charged like this - theres no help coming from the nus - so i am hoping someone could tell us if it was actually legal to do that - i find it very hard to believe.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:26 PM on January 19, 2010

so i am hoping someone could tell us if it was actually legal to do that

Well, then, you probably need to speak to a lawyer. Otherwise I think the student services people at your college (not the NUS) should be able to tell you if this is usual practice or not (which isn't necessarily the same as whether or not it's legal, of course).
posted by impluvium at 5:28 PM on January 19, 2010

i am hoping someone could tell us if it was actually legal to do that

Here is who can tell you this:

- a lawyer
- a student advocate or ombudsperson
- a legislator

I'm sorry the NUS has been so little help to you. That sucks. Can you go over the head of the top person on your campus to the national organization?
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:35 PM on January 19, 2010

IANAL, so take of this what you will, though I was at an english uni and know a couple of bits about uni funding.

There are a few parts to this, I'd say.

The first is that the university is not local government run, but is privately run. In scotland, unlike england any more, the government chooses to pay tuition fees on scottish resident students' behalf (via SAAS if I remember correctly). There may be additional fees, costs etc for services that are on top of the tutution fee, and so not covered by the Scottish government, and of course english students studying at scottish universities are charged tuition fees. Freedom of education under european law is a bit of dead end, as that generally doesn't include graduate level studies or higher. So additional fees for services rendered, over and above SAAS covered tuition fees, are legal at scottish universities. Such fees might include resitting exams, certain sports facilities, accommodation, etc etc, or if the student has a funding gap between their tuition fees and what has been awarded by other parties.

It's also a standard process that outstanding fees can result in a university witholding graduation until such time as the fees are paid. It's also standard process that such fees can be paid up front, yearly, or at the end of the tuition prior to matriculation. This is also common and legal.

So now we come to these particular fees in question, colour and BW printing; darkroom fees, presumably. The facilities were available, and some few students did take advantage of them. Given there is a cost to running those facilities, the uni has decided to make it a flat fee, rather than per-use fee as the digital printers are - but it's the same principle, a fee levied for services rendered over and above that of the flat tuition fees. So my first instinct is going to be that yes, you are liable for these fees, and it's legal to charge them for a service which was provided but unused.

That said, they should have notified you about that fee as part of your registration and/or matriculation documents; if you'd not been told that there was a fee due at any point, then you'd have a decent argument that you shouldn't now be surprised with them. I suspect that there is notification about them somewhere in the small print though.

Assuming you did want to contest the fees, your best bet is likely to pay them now, so that you can graduate, then try to get a refund later through small claims court or the like. Given your local NUS branch is proving unhelpful, you could give the CAB a go, and they should be able to point you towards the appropriate legal services to get further professional advice. I found them very helpful when a university recommended accommodation service tried to rip me off and the university itself was unhelpful.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:00 AM on January 20, 2010

The SPSO has a free advice line; might be worth a shot.
posted by Abiezer at 12:20 AM on January 20, 2010

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