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PhD Student Wins Legal Battle

Apr 16 2008 09:49
Ashley Brown
A local council who took an Imperial PhD student to court over council tax has had its case thrown out by the court.
"Go away, cretins"

Camden Council has had its case against a graduating postgraduate student thrown out by a Magistrate's Court, being told he was "obviously" a full-time student. The council had taken Matthew Yong to court for failing to pay his Council Tax, as College refuse to provide an exemption certificate to PhD students in the writing up phase of their PhD. Despite letters from Imperial College Union, a local conservative election candidate and Mr Yong's supervisors, Camden would not issue a discount without the certificate. Mr Yong chose to fight the council in court, as he firmly believed he fulfilled the definition of a full-time student in line with the "Council Tax (Discount Disregards) Order 1992". The council was effectively ordered to "go away" without the case being heard, with instructions to give Mr Yong the discount and pay his costs.

During the writing-up period at the end of a nominal three-year PhD, a student is not required to pay fees but has access to facilities and staff cut. The level of access available is a departmental lottery, with some departments making no restrictions while others shut their students out completely. The writing-up period is usually required to complete a PhD as three years is typically dedicated to experimental research, which places students in a state of limbo: they have not graduated and must work full-time writing up, so cannot get a job. However, the benefits associated with being a student are taken away by College's refusal to issue student exemption certificates, leading many to take on part-time work while writing up in order to pay their way - which until now has included council tax.

College's position is that as fees are not paid, the writing-up period does not constitute part of the course. They have also indicated it is a method of making PhD students "hurry up", as they will complete faster if they burn through their own money whilst writing up. Postgraduate representatives have countered this argument, as studies have shown students often have no choice but to get a job to tide them over, markedly slowing down their progress - three years of PhD funding cannot erase four years of accumulated student debt from an undergraduate degree, meaning many students have no reserves to see them through.

College's competitors in the PhD market - Oxford and Cambridge - all afford their writing-up students the same privileges as full-time students, including Council Tax exemption certificates.

In May, Imperial College Union will make a presentation College's Strategic Education Committee and call for better treatment of writing up students, including the issue of Council Tax. This case provides a strong argument in their favour, as does the large amount of academic support for the proposal. Last year's SEC saw London Weighting applied to all PhD funding.

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Discussion about “PhD Student Wins Legal Battle”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Apr 16 2008 10:32

Nice one! Take that, you money-grabbing Council pig-f**kers!

Apr 16 2008 16:24

I will sort this out!

I am mighty Boris - King of all students - and I love you all

Vote for meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

3. query   
Apr 16 2008 16:31

So who are the members of the College's Strategic Education Committee? What is their remit? Do you get to see the minutes of their meetings to know what they are deciding about your education?

4. The B   
Apr 17 2008 00:57

Can the Strategic Education Committee lobby the college to reduce international student tuition fees from the ridiculous heights they have now reached? In most currencies, it is actually now (much) cheaper to study in an Ivy League institution than at Imperial.

Oh yes, if you're unlucky enough to join Imperial in 2009 as a Medic, have fun paying the ?36,000 tuition fee in your 4th, 5th and 6th years.

Apr 17 2008 08:32

On one side...

International league tables suggest that we are the equal of some of the Ivy League universities. In which case we should be entitled to charge similar fees for international students.

For home and EU students, Imperial is much better value than the Ivy League for US students. Why should the British government subsidise education for students who are most likely to take their knowledge out of the UK/EU after graduation?

Many international students are either loaded and/or sponsored. I wouldn't lose sleep either way. If people are willing to pay the fees, they can keep charging them.

The collapse of the dollar means that the costs of studying in the US is maybe two thirds of what it was a few years ago. If it rises in the future it will affect costs the other way.

On the other...

I cannot see Imperial being as recognised worldwide as say Harvard or Princeton. With Ivy League colleges a premium is paid for the name. Outside indusrty, Imperial does not really have that prime branded name (yet).

Apr 17 2008 18:52

hurrah for this article?

And ?36,000 to study medicine? If i had my time again i'd only study medicine if you paid me 36000

Apr 18 2008 10:45

College have some draconian rules and I found them to be very unhelpful in cases like these. I'd be damned if I give a penny of my money as an alumnus to them...The hardest thing I found is college's refusal and neglect in allowing write-up students the discounted oyster card. I was out of funding and my expenses shot up having to pay both council tax and higher travel fares.

After I complained to ICU about this, they eventually approached TfL to ask for student discounts to be extended to write-up students. At that time TfL refused. I have no idea what their current policy is on this.

8. The B   
Apr 20 2008 00:38

"International league tables suggest that we are the equal of some of the Ivy League universities. In which case we should be entitled to charge similar fees for international students."

One league table, compiled by a British newspaper, has ranked Imperial in, or above "Ivy league territory".

I am in no way suggesting the British government (and thus, British taxpayers) should subsidise education for individuals outside its citizenship (and the EU) base, but I would like to allude you to the fact that international student tuition fees for Imperial's engineering courses have increased from ?14,000 in 2004/2005 to nearly ?20,000 for the coming academic year. That's a ~9% increase p.a. (COMPOUNDED).

Sure, the US dollar has weakened significantly over the past year or so, but surely Imperial should consider the fact that virtually all indicators point to a sustained weakness in the US dollar (or rather, a sustained overvaluation in the US dollar since the dawn of the millennium, due for a correction). There's also the fact that if one accesses any Ivy league university website, the word "financial assistance" is virtually plastered on every page relating to costs of studying in one of those institutions. No such thing for IC (at least for International students).

Surely it's gotten to the point where the very brightest brains in the international space would give serious thought to Ivy league institutions, where they would've exclusively considered British universities before.

Just my 2 cents.

9. Bored   
Apr 20 2008 17:45

I would have thought that the US would have always been the more attractive to international students. Even Imperial had next to no international students before the year 2000. It seems that it is the opposite to what you are suggesting.

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