Freedom of Information requests revealed British universities took in £50 million from students whose library books were overdue or simply never returned. Some schools have policies that students owing fines cannot graduate.
The figure of £50 million (US$77.3 million) was arrived at after the Press Association filed Freedom of Information (FOI) requests with all universities in the U.K. The information spans a six year period, beginning with the academic year 2004/05.
As reported in the Mirror, 101 universities responded to the FOI requests although many were unable to provide figures for the amount of fines levied against students or the number of missing library books.
Leeds University led the list. They collected £1.8 million (US$2.8 million) in fines while Manchester University grabbed second place with £1.3 million obtained from defaulting students. As far as missing books are concerned, Bucks New University came in first with 30,540 volumes while Oxford University was second with 20,923 books that were never returned.
Most universities charge students 10p a day for an overdue book, although those attending Edinburgh Napier University can be charged up to £1 a day for each book. The university was quoted as saying in their response to the FOI request, The charge on the invoice reflects the amount it would cost us to replace the item using our normal suppliers.
Different universities have different measures they take in dealing with students with outstanding fines. Some prohibit students from having access to their school's IT system until they pay up. The University of Westminster stated in their response that they do not fine delinquent students; but students cannot have access to their school's library while they have overdue books.
Some schools impose "the ultimate punishment" and students are not allowed to graduate if they have unpaid fines. At Exeter University, a student can miss the big day by owing as little as £5. A student at the University of Glasgow must owe at least £25 before he or she can be prevented from graduating.
As reported in the Telegraph, over 300,000 books are currently unaccounted for in British universities. But not returning library books leaves some students undeterred. In their response, Aston University replied, Beyond the limit of 15, borrowing is stopped until the fine is paid - although we know that in some cases, students simply ask their friends to borrow for them to avoid paying the fines.
In some universities, if the outstanding fines are part of a larger debt the student owes the school, the money owed is turned over to an agency for collection.
The release of the information obtained by the Press Association came days after a library in Charlton, Massachusetts, had police visit a family that had overdue library books. At least some of the books were children's books and a 5-year-old in the house was afraid she was going to be arrested.
As can be seen from the above video, the family takes no responsibility for keeping the books long after they became overdue and blame the library and police for scaring their daughter. People do not seem to care that keeping books not only deprives other borrowers from having access to these books, but costs libraries and universities, millions.
Under the United Kingdom's Theft Act, 1968, theft is defined as dishonestly appropriating the property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of that property. But the legislation goes on to say that "permanently" does not necessarily mean, permanently. The Act specifically talks about borrowing that can, under some circumstances, constitute theft. This type of crime is also referred to as theft by conversion; the initial possession of the property is legal, but later turns into an illegal possession.
It is apparent from the information gathered by the Press Association that people who would otherwise not steal have no problem borrowing books and then not returning them or keeping them when they are long overdue.