Fines 'penalise poorer students'

30th November 2007 at 00:00

College crackdown on late work will hurt those living on a tight budget and hinder their education. A college has been accused of discriminating against poorer students by imposing fines for late coursework.

Worcester College of Technology operates a system of pound;5 fines, which students must pay if they want late coursework to be marked.

While the college's policies ensure students are given proper notice of deadlines and that they are warned about fines, it is facing criticism for imposing a regime that favours the better-off.

Holly Williams, 18, president of the college's students' union, said that the policy effectively allowed wealthier students to buy more time.

"I'm living on income support of only pound;35 a week," she said. "If I had to pay pound;5 for an essay, it would mean no electricity for a week.

"I have to live by a very strict budget. The fines definitely adversely affect poor students and are a barrier to their education."

She said students had lived with the policy for three years, believing it to be standard in colleges, but had became concerned as it dawned on them that it is not standard practice.

"It's not academically honest or fair," she said. "One of the aims of a further education institution is to get people into higher education, and they need to get students used to the system there. I don't think any university does this."

Coursework deadlines can be broken if there is agreement about the reasons - including bereavement or illness - but the college defended its position on fines.

Ken Roberts, the college's quality manager, stressed that there was an appeals process and that, in practice, the fining policy only applied to courses such as Btec, because, unlike A-levels, their deadlines were not fixed by exam boards.

On such courses, a student can submit work any time within five years from the starting date. Some have returned after more than a year of no contact, expecting work to be marked.

Mr Roberts said: "If you talk to lecturers, they would say it's only the usual small number of suspects who are affected.

"It's not about fining students for not meeting deadlines. It's about helping them manage their workload and, if they are having trouble, there are ways and means by which that deadline can be extended."

The policy was intended to help lecturers' manage their marking workload, as well as encouraging students to complete their courses within a one or two-year period.

Cash collected from fines goes back into central college funds.

An spokeswoman for awarding body Edexcel confirmed that Btec deadlines were flexible, in order to allow courses to be tailored to students' needs.

She said it was up to individual colleges to set suitable deadlines and enforce them appropriately.

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