Fee-paying students at a Scottish university will be the first to have their costs waived if they fail to graduate under radical proposals.


Hundreds of students at University of the West of Scotland (UWS) could potentially benefit from the initiative.

The university says it has broken ranks with other institutions to ensure it remains attractive in an increasingly competitive global market.

If the scheme is approved, UWS would become the first institution in the UK to offer students a refund for failing to complete their courses.

The cashback scheme would not apply to Scottish students because they already have their fees paid for them by the Scottish Government, but overseas students, who currently pay more than £10,000 a year to attend UWS, and those from the rest of the UK (rUK), who are charged £7250, would benefit.

The university, which has hundreds of international and rUK students, said the proposals would only apply to those who regularly attended their courses and took advantage of all the help and support available to them if they began to struggle with their studies.

Professor Craig Mahoney, principal of UWS, announced the plans at a meeting of university leaders, businessmen and politicians at the Houses of Parliament.

He said: "One possibility we are considering is introducing a rebate system. If you are admitted to UWS on the basis we only admit students with the potential to succeed, and then you fail to complete your degree having attended and participated in all the support and development opportunities we offer we will refund the tuition fee you have personally paid or taken a loan for.

"In the global economy, the environment changes quickly and the magnitude of that change can be staggering. We cannot sit in our ivory towers, observing and imagining that we will be unaffected by the changes taking place around us.

"If you keep doing the things you've always done, you keep getting what you've always got and in the future that might not be enough."

Mr Mahoney went on to urge universities to act more responsibly in treating students as "customers" and said institutions needed to be more flexible to respond to student needs.

He added: "It is my firm belief that the UK's publicly-funded universities won't have a particularly attractive future unless they become more commercially sensitive and begin to act more like private industry - including private higher education providers - to allow us to remain competitive across the globe.

"We have to acknowledge that students are customers and we have to meet customer expectations. To do that, we have to know who our customers are and understand their needs and desires."

Last night, student body NUS Scotland warned the plan should not be used simply as a marketing tool to boost the number of fee-paying students at UWS.

Although all Scottish universities now charge fees to international and rUK students the market is dominated by Scotland's most internationally prestigious universities such as Edinburgh, St Andrews, in Fife, and Glasgow.

Robert Foster, NUS Scotland vice-president, described the suggestion as "novel" and deserving of wider debate.

He said: "Any student who fails to complete their degree, for a huge variety of reasons and very often not of their own doing, represents a huge waste of potential, for them, our institutions and wider society.

"We'd expect every university to consider more seriously how we best support all students to reach their full potential while ensuring we reject any notions of marketisation or seeing students as customers of a product.

"In saying that, only those who have paid fees themselves, or taken out a fee loan, would get a refund which would exclude the vast majority of Scottish students, who will still be taking on debt during their degrees.

"In addition, we'd be worried if this was simply a way to try and attract more fee-paying students while doing little for the outcomes of Scottish students."