University students in Birmingham fined almost £250,000 for not returning library books

A university in Birmingham has ranked highest for library fines to students - billing them almost £250,000
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Students across the UK have been billed more than £7 million in library fines over the last decade - with a university in Birmingham coming top.

Student paper The Tab issed Freedom of Information requests to find out how much universities are charging for non-return of their library books, with some shocking results.

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They targeted the Russell Group Universities and discovered that in total they had billed students £7,160,113 since 2012/13, with a totla of £120,000 dished out in library fines to students last year alone.

And the figure is believed to be much higher as seven, of the 20 universities, couldn’t provide figures going back 10 years due to internal changes on how the data was recorded. However, all universities provided data for the last five academic years, which showed students were collectively fined just shy of £2 million (£1,988,102).

The University of Birmingham fined students the most in the past five years, dishing out £240,850 in fines and late fees. Equally stringent fines were issued by King’s College London (£224,552), Durham (£186,587), Nottingham (£186,500), Edinburgh (£183,381) and Oxford (£182,638).

The data does, however, show a shift away from the punitive measures as multiple universities have stopped charging library fines in recent years, some due to pandemic and others in response to the cost of living crisis.

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In 2012/13, despite only receiving data from 13 of the Russell Group universities, students were fined £1.1 million. Across 20 universities, last year’s students were collectively fined £119,500.

Last year’s figures show students at Sheffield, Durham, Queen Mary, York and Bristol were fined nothing for late returns or for failing to return books at all. However, Birmingham and Nottingham hit their students with £44,427 and £24,233 worth of fines respectively.

The University of Birmingham billed students almost £50k in fines, but failed to collect anywhere close to this amount - with students coughing up £1,160 last year.

Students billed almost £250,000 in library fines in BirmnghamStudents billed almost £250,000 in library fines in Birmngham
Students billed almost £250,000 in library fines in Birmngham

A spokesperson for the University of Nottingham defended the university’s position saying “any collected fines are reinvested into hardship funds for students.”

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Borrowed books are automatically renewed unless they are requested by someone else, so fines are only incurred when a book is overdue - and requested by another student.

“The Students’ Union has approved the approach we are taking. But we are always looking at ways to improve our services and would be happy to undertake further consultation with our students around this,” the spokesperson added.

Earlier this month, the University of Glasgow decided to cut most late fees for its students in response to the cost of living crisis. Students will now only be charged if they lose the book, or it’s overdue, and on hold for another student.

In an email to students, Susan Ashworth, executive director of information services, said: “The library is playing its part in recognising the issues students face. Removing the overdue fines penalty system is a measure of support in a difficult time. This allows full use of the library for students at all times which positively impacts on the student experience year round.”

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The move was also adopted by the University of Exeterm which removed charges for all overdue books from 1st October last year, to ease the financial pressure on students.

A spokesperson for Cambridge University Libraries told The Tab: “With regards to the list of fines across the UL [University Library] and Faculty and Departmental Libraries more generally, since the beginning of the first COVID lockdown in March 2020, all fines have been waived daily for users at Cambridge University Libraries.

“The reasons behind this were to make library services more equitable and inclusive, aiming to reduce student anxiety and potential sources of confrontation, and allowing our dedicated and specialist library staff to devote more of their time across Collegiate Cambridge to supporting student needs.”

University of BirminghamUniversity of Birmingham
University of Birmingham

Total amount fined since 2017/2018:

  • Birmingham - £240,850
  • King’s College London - £224,552
  • Durham - £186,587
  • Nottingham - £186,500
  • Edinburgh - £183,381Oxford - £182,638
  • Warwick - £148,156
  • Queen’s Belfast - £103,330
  • Cambridge - £101,285
  • Glasgow - £92,991
  • Manchester - £66,240
  • Queen Mary University of London - £60,511
  • York - £50,579
  • Cardiff - £37,908
  • UCL - £34,458
  • Bristol - £28,656
  • Imperial College London - £27,410
  • Exeter - £16,960
  • Liverpool - £15,110
  • Sheffield - £0

The information was either not held, or no response was received, from the University of Southampton, University of Leeds, Newcastle University or LSE. Each university was also asked to provide the highest individual fine they’ve handed out to a student, with final data revealing staggeringly high charges from Exeter University and the University of Cambridge.

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Exeter admitted a student seven years ago triggered a £1,850 fine for not handing a book back in on time. However, the fine was not upheld and, in an act of leniency, the university decided to waive the penalty.

A student at Cambridge was billed £1,000 for an “overdue item”, but the university waived £950 and the student paid £50.

University of BirminghamUniversity of Birmingham
University of Birmingham

Here are the largest library fines given to Russell Group University students since 2012/13:

  • University of Exeter – £1,850*
  • University of Cambridge – £1,000*
  • University of Liverpool – £50
  • Durham University – £40
  • University of Warwick – £35
  • University of Edinburgh – £25
  • King’s College London – £20
  • University of Manchester – £20
  • University of Birmingham – £15
  • University of Oxford – £10
  • University of Glasgow – £10
  • University of Nottingham – £10
  • Queen’s University Belfast – £10

The University of Sheffield became one of the first universities to scrap library fines when they announced the measure in the summer of 2010. The information was either not held or no response was received from the University of Southampton, Queen Mary University of London, University of Bristol, LSE, University of York, UCL, Cardiff University, Imperial College London or the University of Leeds.

* Fines not upheld

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