Opinion: prove you’re in the library or face a bill, students told

Officialdom seems to have opened a new front in its battle against those who commit the terrible sin of studying while black.

One of my students has been sent a summons to appear in court for not paying full Council Tax. The problem arises because non-EU students come in on a visa that specifies they must be recorded as being actively taught in college for at least 15 hours per week in college premises.

However, to be exempt from Council Tax a “full-time” student must study for 21 hours per week. Hands up anyone who got a degree at university and averaged more than 21 hours per week in classrooms or laboratories!

Obviously any diligent student spends at least the missing 6 hours per week working at home and in libraries. However, we all know that not all students are diligent, and in this particular case it seems that a stubborn council official is determined to argue to the magistrates that my student is not diligent.

In fact, this student must spend extra time on a work placement to get her diploma, so it ought to be an open-and-shut case to humiliate the council in court. However, she cannot start that placement without a Criminal Records check, which takes ages to get, even though it is completely useless since she only just arrived.

Has anyone else heard of councils playing this particular card? Has it started cropping up in councillors’ advice surgeries yet? Do students at prestigious universities get the same hassle?

My borough contains at least five thousand students in an essentially identical situation in private colleges and I don’t know yet if our student has been particularly singled out as a test case. What I do know from past experience is that councils do not pay the true cost of all the cases they shovel into magistrates’ courts.

Whenever they imagine that someone owes them money they have no incentive to engage brain, and ask themselves (a) if the money is really due and (b) whether there is a simpler way to collect it, such as picking up the phone. A systemic inefficiency that the coalition ought to jump on.

However, I deviate from my main point, which is that UK plc treats its foreign students abominably in many different ways. This may please the Daily Mail, but it is wrecking a major foreign currency earner, damaging our reputation abroad, and causing much human misery.

Anthony Durham helps to run a small private college.

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • A Black Man 20th Aug '10 - 4:40pm

    Could you please explain why you are playing the race card? What has the students colour got to do with anything?

  • Neil Blakeman 20th Aug '10 - 5:05pm

    I spent over 21 hours per week studying for my degree and am appalled that someone involved in education seems to support the view that a degree is a part time exercise. I recently undertook a Masters as a mature student and was shocked by attitudes such as yours that mock anyone who puts in the hours and wants to achieve.
    If your qualifications are so easy to get in terms of time input maybe you should question whether you are delivering value for money. It is you that views students as a source of income not the council I would suggest. They just want to make sure that the rules are applied fairly. Your rant playing the race card does not suggest to me that attending your college would be a good investment.

  • Rob Sheffield 20th Aug '10 - 5:05pm

    A Liberal Democrat run council ?

  • Clearly you are educating students in a range of less than useful areas and don’t know many engineering students. We had 18 hrs of lectures, 12 hrs of labs plus other study in the library.
    These are skills in short supply here and in many non eu countries

  • I studied Philosophy (more useful than you’d think) and spent well over 21 hours a week studying. However, I’ll give this the benefit of the doubt and assume that you mean 21 hours in a specific college-based location, when much studying can be outside this context.

  • To add a bit of balance, I will admit that I studied history and politics and I certainly did not study for 21 hours a week.

  • Colin Green 20th Aug '10 - 7:14pm

    Hands up anyone who got a degree at university and averaged more than 21 hours per week in classrooms or laboratories.

    Me, I averaged around 27 timetabled hours per week. I must have done a real degree 😉

  • Anthony Durham 20th Aug '10 - 9:07pm

    I am intrigued by these hostile comments, because almost no universities timetable more than 21 hours for their students. Is it selective memory ? Like Simon the engineer, I fondly imagined that my own student labours (back in the days of free tuition and maintenance grants) comfortably exceeded 21 timetabled hours per week, but on checking I find that the actual figure was 18. Is it intellectual snobbery? Are you commenters implying that your time in the laboratory was more noble than our student’s time learning (unpaid) how to care for bedridden old people?

    As it happens, our student can prove total study time comfortably exceeding 21 hours. The interesting question is why the council has not backed down after being told where it is wrong in law. Has its official made a sober calculation that a gentle young lady on a vocational course and with an obviously Afro name makes a softer target to intimidate in court than the hundreds of law students just down the road?

  • I’m with you Anthony. Methinks these other comments are indicative of the tory-lite membership that has flooded into the party since our dear leader signed a pact with the party most of us were in politics to fight against….

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Aug '10 - 9:34am

    “I studied Philosophy (more useful than you’d think) and spent well over 21 hours a week studying. However, I’ll give this the benefit of the doubt and assume that you mean 21 hours in a specific college-based location, when much studying can be outside this context.”

    It would help if you had read what was written – “more than 21 hours per week in classrooms or laboratories.”

    Obviously the point is that there’s a difference between school and university, and that undergraduates are expected to spend a substantial proportion of their time in private study rather than in a classroom. Having said that, judging from some of the comments above, things have changed since I was at university, and some students expect to be treated like school children.

  • @Anthony, I was wondering if the council-tax guidelines referred to this specific terminology (classroom and laboratory) or whether this term was just in the next sentence added by Anthony Durham. It wasn’t entirely clear, and many of the subsequent comments seem to mis-understand, so I did read it, and was making precisely that point…

    @Felix – Don’t automatically write people you disagree off as ‘tory-lite’. I am centre-left, member from way before the coaltion, or in fact Clegg’s leadership, and have always experienced the ‘mine was a real degree because I spent x hours in the Lab’ from all wings of the party. This has absolutely nothing to do with the coalition.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Aug '10 - 10:31am

    “I was wondering if the council-tax guidelines referred to this specific terminology (classroom and laboratory) …”

    It’s evident from the article that they don’t.

  • @Anthony: I disagree – para 3 makes it sound like it is the council official who uses [for 21 hrs] the para 2 (EU) guidelines [for 15 hrs], and it is their error – so to me it reads like it was the council official who unfairly does use this definition, and therefore was at fault.

    I think the comments above, and the differences that you perceive as having arisen since you were at college/uni are, in some cases true, but more importantly represent an often mis-used distinction between sciences, where lab. time is clocked in easily and humanities, where more private [therefore less provable] study occurs (I am being loose with definitions of science and humanities).

  • Ian Sanderson 22nd Aug '10 - 10:28am

    I’ll put my hands up to that. I studied in Queen’s University of Belfast 1958-63, and in each of those 5 years the total weekly termtime timetable exceeded 21 hours totalling lectures, tutorials and lab time. In theory it was all compulsory. (University regulations said that you couldn’t get a course credit without 75% attendance. Not all departments enforced this.) In fact I went to them all. In the last four years, the weekly lab time alone exceeded 21 hours. (While I was a student our professor gave an interview to the media deprecating the practice of students taking vacation jobs. He believed that the vacation was for more study of their core subjects.) I was a Science student, but Agriculture and Engineering students had even denser timetables.
    I think they reduced the lab time a few years later.

    In spite of that, I agree with the point of this post. Government regulations are often written more for ease of enforcement than for the real lives of those who suffer from them.

  • Ian Sanderson 22nd Aug '10 - 10:32am

    Ian Sanderson writes: Sorry, I seemed to have messed up the Blockquote tags in my previous posting. Everything in the posting is my wording, but it should have started with the following quote from the Anthony Durham’s post at the head of the thread:

    “Hands up anyone who got a degree at university and averaged more than 21 hours per week in classrooms or laboratories!”

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Nonconformistradical
    Mary - that doesn't answer the question of why focus on GP shortage for a local eleciton campaign?...
  • Nonconformistradical
    @theakes "There is always someone close by who can act, family, teachers, social workers etc" Evidence? Suppose the one person close by is themself a dange...
  • Mary ReidMary Reid
    @Jenny Barnes, @David Raw - of course, we can't produce new doctors instantly (although the Tories did promise 6000 more in 2019). But then, thanks to the Brexi...
  • Gordon
    Mel Borthwaite – I agree. Doubly so because ‘local’ is where LibDems are strongest. How to create a credible national party has remained an unsolved mys...
  • Jenny Barnes
    Take a step back. Why is it any concern of the state what gender you identify as or who you find attractive?...