Throughout the 2016/17 academic year, students at Queen’s University Belfast were fined a total of £52,889 for late returns to the library.
The university has said that fines are necessary in order to “encourage prompt returns” and maintain circulation of books in “heavy demand.”
Fines for overdue books start at the rate of 10p per day, but if another student has requested your book, this rises by 40p daily meaning fines can quickly multiply. Short loan books that are returned late are charged at £2.50 per day.
Any student who has outstanding fees of over £5 is then unable to withdraw any further books until this charge is paid.
A spokesperson for Queen’s said: “The library imposes fines only because the late return of books may impact negatively on the work of other students who are working to deadlines.”
“The library has a responsibility to keep books in demand in circulation.”
“We have a number of ways in which we make it easy for students to return items on time so that fines can be avoided. Receipts clearly highlighting due dates are issued and the library sends reminder notices before items are due for return.”
“Alerts relating to fines are clearly visible on a student’s library account and also when they log onto the university portal.”
“Funds accrued from library fines are used to purchase stock and develop the library service.”
However, Belfast’s largest library, Belfast Central Library, has failed to generate more than £21,111 from late fees and room hire over the last few years, less than 40% of QUB’s income.
Queen’s Students’ Union president Stephen McCrystall described the sum as a “hefty amount of money” for students who are already experiencing a “big financial burden.”
He accused Queen’s of “going for the easy option” by imposing fines and said: “Fines are not really an appropriate way of putting sanctions on students.”
“We have made the case in the past about the university exploring alternative options.
“It is clear that fines do not work. The only result is that students are out of pocket.”
He said it would be a “little” more understandable if the revenue generated by the fines was invested in the university’s library.
QUB’s Financial Statement for 2016/17 indicates that their income from tuition fees grew 7% from the previous year and as much as 14% for international students. This was mirrored by a 7% increase in total income for the year, yet investment rose only 3%.
Many students feel as though the rise in income made directly from them, of which tuition fees and late charges are a part, is not reciprocated in the form of an equal rise in investment.
The sum of QUB’s income from belated returns was made public in December after a Freedom of Information request.
The Freedom of Information Act of 2000 dictates that the public, upon inquiry, have a right to all information and data held by public bodies in the UK, including universities, and requests can be made directly to the university through their website.