Liam McCabe: Graduation fees are a stealth tax on students – time to scrap them

Ben Wray

Liam McCabe, NUS Scotland President, highlights new research by the students’ union on graduation fees, showing students can be out of pocket by as much as £225 just for graduating

FOR many students across Scotland, graduations matter a great deal. They represent the culmination of years of hard work, the blood, sweat and tears shed for their education, all of this to walk across that stage, receive their award and celebrate their success. Graduations are a milestone, the end of one chapter and the beginning of another, and NUS Scotland values the role they play in the lives of our members.

But for some across Scotland, graduation comes at a cost. Institutions the length and breadth of Scotland continue to tax by stealth the achievements of their students. 

As we exit the winter graduation diet, we can reveal the true cost of graduation to students in Scotland. Thanks to a Freedom of Information request from NUS Scotland, students can be out of pocket by as much as £225 as a result of winter graduations and their associated costs. 

READ MORE: NUS Scotland calls for “root and branch” reform of financial support for poorest students

The data shows a mixed approach to charging, with specific graduation fees in place at 70 per cent of universities and 16 per cent of colleges. Whilst some may be unsurprised at universities charging for graduation, they will be surprised to find out just how expensive it is due to additional costs. Before a student has even thought about gowns, photographs and other expensive additions, some need to drop £70 just to get a seat in the hall. Even those students who cannot afford their graduation and decide not to attend the ceremony, may yet be charged by their institutions to graduate ‘in abstentia’. This is a miserly, Dickensian practice which should be immediately scrapped.   

Regrettably, in some instances, colleges have followed suit. Graduation fees, masquerading as ‘registration fees’ or mandatory ‘alumni association’ fees, are demanded before students can participate. For college students, many of whom are further education students looking to build a better life for themselves and their dependents, institutions risk souring their education by making them shell out to celebrate one of their greatest accomplishments.

In addition to mandatory graduation fees, many institutions also require students to purchase academic dress and robes from external companies, with some institutions receiving commission on each hire. This nice little kickback many Scottish institutions are collecting might go some way to explaining why many make such robes mandatory at their graduation ceremonies.

READ MORE: Disproportionately high number of Scottish students relying on pay-day loans to get by

We would appeal to all institutions across the country to reflect on their graduation fee policies and the impact this causes – particularly for the most vulnerable students.

For the students of Scotland who have commuted back and forth, sank thousands of pounds of rent into halls and private accommodation, have lost potential income to participate in education, and subjected themselves to tremendous stress and difficulty, a lack of finance should never be a barrier to any facet of education – including their graduation.  Institutions must ensure that, in future, their graduations are free and accessible to all those who have more than earned the right to celebrate their academic successes.

If Scotland’s institutions are genuinely committed to widening access, and sincerely wish to ensure they are open to all in spite of affluence, we invite them to prove it now by taking action.

Picture courtesy of Laura Kane