COLLEGE students who leave their courses after just a few weeks are being fined by some institutions.

A survey of colleges found many have policies which penalise students who sign up in August, but then leave before a cut-off date of 1st December.

The date is important because colleges do not receive any funding from the public purse to pay for tuition until the first week of December.

That leaves them out of pocket for all those students studying higher education courses who leave before then.

City of Glasgow College said it had charged 471 full-time higher education students fees relating to withdrawal since 2015/16.

The college charges no fee for withdrawal in the first two weeks, but then students would incur a payment of £428.

Other colleges said they charged fees of between £35 and £50 a week for students who dropped out. Those withdrawing in the first two weeks had to pay a £25 administration fee.

Colleges Scotland, which represents the sector, said recent changes in admissions policy at universities were one of the reasons why many students withdrew early.

Universities are increasing trying to target students from poorer backgrounds under widening access policies - which has traditionally been a strength of the college sector.

However, colleges came under fire from student representatives who argued it was unfair to penalise students for moving course or choosing a different option.

Luke Humberstone, president of NUS Scotland, described the situation as “appalling”.

He said: “When a student is at risk of dropping out the number one priority for the college should always be getting the student the support that they need to remain and succeed in education.

“There are countless reasons why a student might leave education including if they are struggling with academic, financial or welfare problems.

“While this is not necessarily the college’s fault there is a responsibility to reach out and support students at risk of leaving rather than looking to recoup finances.”

The survey of colleges by the Times Educational Supplement Scotland found six which charges higher education students in some circumstances if they drop out before the cut-off including City of Glasgow, West College Scotland, North East Scotland and Forth Valley.

Of the other two Glasgow Clyde said they were currently reviewing the policy and had not yet imposed charges this year while Glasgow Kelvin said they tried to secure money from employers who were sponsoring students.

Dundee and Angus, South Lanarkshire, West Lothian, Edinburgh, Dumfries and Galloway, Fife and Ayrshire colleges said they did not charge any students who withdrew early.

A spokeswoman for Colleges Scotland said the retention and success of students was of “paramount” importance.

She added: “The progress of students is monitored and both proactive and reactive support structures provide extensive help to ensure that students facing challenges can address these and remain on their course.

“However, anecdotal evidence from our members would suggest an increasing number of students beginning Higher national courses have subsequently left college to take up a late offer to go to university.

“Such movement within a system with limited places available leaves the college sector in an unsustainable financial situation.”

She said early withdrawal had cost one college more that £200,000 over the past three years in anticipated funding.

The Scottish Government said it did not place any obligation on institutions to charge tuition fees who withdrew early from their courses saying it was a matter for institutions.