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UK universities charge MILLIONS in library fines every year

UK universities are making millions from fining students for overdue library books, but is there a fairer way to deal with things?

universities giving huge library fines

Universities handed out over £3.5m in library fines in the last academic year, with two universities charging over £100,000.

A series of Freedom of Information requests submitted by Jack Forks, and reported on by Ben Gartside for i, found that 130 universities and university colleges across the country collected a total of £3,540,321 in library fines between September 2016 and August 2017.

The University of Oxford made the most last year, charging £167,689 in fines. King’s College London placed second with £113,726 and Cambridge University was third, collecting £98,487.

In November, a similar BBC investigation discovered that London universities were making millions a year from library fines.

Which universities made the most in library fines?

Check out the 10 UK universities that charged the most in library fines in the last academic year. Did yours make the list?

UniversityFines collected (Sep '16 - Aug '17)
University of Oxford£167,689
King's College London£113,726
University of Cambridge£98,487
Middlesex University£91,400
University College London£87,195
University of Wolverhampton£80,965
University of Greenwich£79,771
University of Edinburgh£76,501
Birmingham City University£69,981
Nottingham Trent University£67,000

What do universities say?

university library fines

Not all institutions have a library fines policy system – both the University of Bath and the University of Chichester have chosen not to introduce such a scheme. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two rank highly in the National Student Survey (NSS).

Some also have initiatives like auto-renewal in order to reduce costs for students. Others, like the University of York, say they will only fine a late return if the book has been requested by someone else.

York also promises that any income from fines will be used to purchase additional copies of books that are in high demand.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary said:

Given that the Tory Government has let vice-chancellors’ pay go through the roof while the poorest students have lost their grants, it is all the more important that there is transparency about how universities raise and spend their money.

They should provide reassurance that income is re-invested in students.

The National Union of Students vice president, Izzy Lenga, told i:

Universities should be putting in place sensible ways of helping students and graduates to pay off any non-academic debt.

However, the representative group for higher education, Universities UK (UUK), said that policies on libraries were up to individual universities.

Alternatives to library fines

university library fines huge

Credit: stuartpilbrow – Flickr

Just like public libraries, university libraries need a system in place to prevent their books being damaged, stolen, or just returned very late when others want to borrow them.

Most public libraries have a fines system, but universities seemingly forget that it's students who they're taking this extra money from. Often students are only borrowing library books because they can’t afford to buy their own.

Every university is different, but I can give a personal example of my own.


library fines adviceI incurred fines while I was studying at Warwick, though luckily it was only around £20.

People assume students are just being lazy in not returning items, and maybe that is sometimes the case, but there might be legitimate reasons such as being ill or absent for another reason.

I received a fine because I'd borrowed a few high demand books which could only be loaned for one day, and ended up forgetting to return them because I had three exams in a row.

Lucy Skoulding, Save the Student news reporter


Universities should consider other ways to get around this problem rather than just charging students. They could incentivise them to return books, for instance offering a reward for anyone who completes a year without returning books late.

Another approach could be to suspend library usage for a period of time for all those who have overdue books.

Library fines can stop students graduating

why some graduates earn more

Some universities have gone to extreme lengths, withholding degrees from students because they have outstanding debts like library fines.

We first reported this in 2013, and most recently less than a year ago, so the problem doesn't seem to be going away.

Among the universities singled out as doing this are Buckingham, Bucks New, and Birkbeck.

A Times investigation also found that the University of Glasgow is refusing to hand out degree certificates or re-enrol students with outstanding library fines.

Back in March 2017, it was reported that around 50 students had faced this punishment in the last five years, though this number is suspected to be higher as the report didn’t factor in those who had outstanding accommodation debts.

This is still happening, despite the CMA deeming it illegal to withhold a degree because of library fines. When some cases involved fines of less than £25, it's hard to argue that the punishment fits the crime.

Think your uni has treated you unfairly? Find out how to claim compensation from your university.

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