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Scottish Labour MSP Neil Bibby has backed calls from SAUWS and NUS Scotland to ensure students are ‘free to graduate’ following their shock FOI revelation on graduation costs.

The West of Scotland region MSP was joined at the Scottish Parliament by University of West of Scotland (UWS) Students Association President Emma Shotter and Vice President Societies and Citizenship & President-Elect Franklin Jacob as well as NUS Scotland President Liam McCabe.

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Within the West Scotland region, UWS can charge up to £40 per student just to attend their own graduation ceremony. The Students Association of UWS (SAUWS) recently launched their own petition directed at UWS Principal, Craig Mahoney, receiving over 2,000 signatures.

Following a Freedom of Information request to all of Scotland’s colleges and universities, NUS Scotland has revealed that fees, mandatory robe hire, photography packages and ceremony tickets will see university student forking out anything from £80 to £225 to graduate.

Some institutions even charge students for graduating in absentia, meaning students are still charged to graduate even if they have been priced out of attending their own ceremony. Many institutions were also found to receive commission from each gown or robe hired by their students – a mandatory requirement to attend graduation ceremonies.

NUS Scotland’s ‘Free to Graduate’ campaign calls for an end to graduation charges. Since January, several institutions have scrapped their fees, Including the Universities of Aberdeen, Strathclyde, Robert Gordon and Stirling.

Neil Bibby MSP for West Scotland has called on UWS, to scrap their fee.

Neil Bibby MSP said:

 

“Education in Scotland should be based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay. The news from NUS Scotland that some students could be out of pocket by as much as £225 is stark reading. Though their ‘Free to Graduate’ campaign, NUS Scotland revealed that UWS within my region charges students up to £40 just in order to graduate.

I would strongly encourage the University to engage with their student membership and to work constructively with NUS Scotland, ensuring every student throughout Scotland is free to graduate.”

NUS Scotland President Liam McCabe labelled the fees as a ‘stealth tax’.

Commenting, Liam stated:

 

“A student’s graduation should be one of the most memorable days of their life as they celebrate their hard-earned achievements.

 However, NUS Scotland’s FOI and our ‘free to graduate’ campaign has revealed many institutions are putting a price on success through disgraceful graduation fees, effectively taxing students by stealth.

Not only do many institutions – particularly universities – demand payment to graduate in the first place, they also require their students to hire and wear expensive academic robes from third party providers. Stunningly, some institutions even get a kick back on these transactions, receiving commission from the involved companies.

We would appeal to all institutions across the country to reflect on their graduation fee policies and the impact they have on their least affluent students. Institutions must ensure that, in future, their graduations are free and accessible to all those who have earned the right to celebrate their academic successes.”

 

Commenting, the Students’ Association of the University of the West of Scotland:

“The Students’ Association of the University of the West of Scotland (SAUWS) is determined to ensure that access to money is not a barrier to any student, particularly when UWS has the highest rate of students from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds in Scotland. Students have worked so hard to successfully complete their studies and should not be excluded from graduation which is such an important celebration of all their accomplishments.

This year alone the Students’ Association has given out over £11,000 in emergency hardship, 46 food bags, and 26 toiletries bags. The fact that even one student is in need of a food bag is appalling and yet for some reason UWS continues to charge for graduation when some of its students are in a dire financial situation.

We have met with the university executive team and agreed to interim measures of a reduction of the in absentia fee and the establishment of a graduation hardship fund. While this meeting was constructive, we believe that the interim measures suggested by UWS do not go far enough and we will continue to fight for the scraping of Graduations Fees for all UWS Students.

“Working in partnership with NUS Scotland, SAUWS will continue to campaign on this matter until a satisfactory outcome is reached. Students are clear at UWS that they do not want graduation fees and we are going to fight to ensure that we get rid of this unfair burden.”