WASHINGTON (AFP) – Virginia Tech university, scene of a 2007 shooting spree in which 33 people died, has been fined $55,000 for failing to alert students in time that a gunman was loose on the campus.

Virginia Tech was the scene of the worst school shooting in US history when Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old Virginia Tech student born in South Korea, shot to death 32 fellow classmates and teachers before killing himself.

An investigation by the US Department of Education ruled last year that the university broke US law by taking too long to notify students of the dangers on the campus.

The university took more than two hours to issue an alert to campus students, faculty and staff after the first two people were shot and killed on April 16, 2007.

In a statement sent to AFP, Virginia Tech officials said Tuesday they would appeal the fine handed down by the Department of Education and disagreed that they had violated the law.

"The university actions on April 16 were well within the standards and practices in effect at that time," the statement said.

The university in Blacksburg, Virginia, had also risked losing its federal subsidies, but the department did not go as far as to inflict that sanction.

"We believe that Virginia Tech administrators acted appropriately in their response to the tragic events of April 16, 2007, based on the best information then available to them at the time," the Virginia Tech statement said.

"It appears the university is being held accountable for a new federal standard that was adopted after the April 2007 shootings. It is inconsistent with regulatory process or traditional jurisprudence to hold Virginia Tech to standards that did not exist at the time."

The first shooting incident occurred at about 7:15 am; the second began at 9:40 am. A campus email was not sent out to students and staff until 9:26 am urging caution due to a "shooting on campus."

Within hours of the first deadly shootings, 23-year-old Cho had mailed a package containing video clips, photos and a handwritten manifesto to NBC News.

He then made his way to a university building where he chained shut the doors and shot dead 30 people inside.