“Visible, iconic and tangible difference”: University of Strathclyde Student President describes push to abolish graduation fees

19 February 2019

On 9th January 2019, Matt Crilly, the University of Strathclyde Student Union President wrote this on his Facebook account: “My New Year’s resolution: abolish graduation fees at Strathclyde.

27 days later, the University of Strathclyde announced they had scrapped the fees.

This major declaration by the University was made on 5th February 2019 and immediately means that students graduating in 2019 and the years to come, will attend their graduation ceremonies free of charge at the University’s Barony Hall.

In previous years, students had to part with £35 to attend their graduation ceremony and £20 if they graduated in absentia. This was on top of paying to hire a gown, getting tickets for family and friends to be in attendance and photographs to mark the occasion. According to data obtained by Freedom of Information requests by National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland to colleges and universities, some Scottish graduates are paying up to £225 to take part in ceremonies. They also found that 70 percent of universities in Scotland and 16 percent of colleges still have graduation fees.

 In an interview with The Glasgow Sloth just a day after the announcement, Matt Crilly expressed what this hallmark decision means to him: “I’m really happy about it! It’s definitely the most visible achievement of my year as President. This one has become the most visible, iconic and tangible difference and means a lot to people as well.”

In a press release, Sara Carter, University of Strathclyde Professor and Associate Principal (Learning & Teaching), said: “The University of Strathclyde works in close partnership with Strathclyde Students’ Union and, through partnership working, we became aware of concerns about graduation ceremony fees.”

Photograph: Cynthia Kimola

Matt may be one of the lucky ones who has managed to accomplish their 2019 New Year resolutions, however, he says this was not an easy feat. Together with Strath Union executives he did intense lobbying, encouraged the signing of petitions, participation in online polls, creation of videos and development of a social media campaign #gradfees to raise awareness and advocate for the fees to be scrapped.

“The process began in November 2018. I wrote a paper and submitted it to the Student Experience Committee and that was the process that began the discussions.”

He also used his Facebook account to actively engage and give feedback from his meetings with the university regarding the issue. After the initial meeting, the University agreed to reduce the graduation fee from £35 to £20 and to get rid of the £20 fee when graduating in absentia. But he put off making a decision to conduct a poll on his Facebook page to let students know what had been offered and if they are happy with the terms. More than 1,200 students voted to abolish the fees and this was the feedback they needed to go back to the drawing board.

A post that Matt Crilley ran on his Facebook Page. Photograph: Cynthia Kimola

The poll results and a viral video that Matt and has team made, forced the University to acknowledge the magnitude of the issue and decide to abolish the fees.

“I think the video is what made the decision for the university. Almost a day or so after that video being out, they said the fees are going to go, we’re going in that direction now.” Matt added.

Laureen Gilmour, a student at the university, commented on Facebook after she heard about the announcement. “This is fantastic news. Last year I struggled to find the money for my graduation, cost of gown hire etc soon mounts up. This year because I am a masters student it would be even more difficult and until now I doubted that I would have been able to afford it. Thank you Matt and everyone who helped scrap these fees, I can now look forward to graduation instead of dreading it.”

Photograph: Cynthia Kimola

The contribution of Matt Crilly and his team also made it to the Scottish Parliament House Business in a motion sponsored by Sandra White, MSP on 12 February 2019. She wanted the House to congratulate the StrathUnion on launching and winning a successful campaign that led to the agreement by the University to abolish graduation charges for students.

The University of Strathclyde is the latest institution to abolish the fees after the University of Glasgow, which in May 2018, confirmed it would scrap its own £50 graduation fees following a backlash from students.

Following the news of Strathclyde abolishing graduation fees for students, National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland wrote an open letter to all college and university principles to ensure every student is ‘free to graduate’.

Commenting on the news, NUS Scotland President Liam McCabe added:

“I am delighted that the University of Strathclyde Students’ Association have won their battle and convinced the University to scrap all graduation fees for their students. All credit must go to the Students’ Association. They have corrected a financial injustice which sought to penalise students for their academic success.

“We would further appeal to all other institutions to take note, listen to students and remove these unjustifiable charges for student graduation.”

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