Last month Which? raised concerns that universities grant themselves wide discretion to make course changes. Here’s the CMA on why they have issued advice to help universities comply with consumer law.
For the majority of students, higher education is an enriching, positive chapter in their lives, paving the way for future career opportunities and personal development. It usually involves a critical one-off decision about which course and university to choose, followed by a significant commitment of time and money over a number of years.
So it’s crucial that students know exactly what they’re signing up for, and have all the information they need to help them make an informed choice about which course and institution to apply to and study at.
And when they get to university, they should be treated fairly. The university’s terms and conditions (which includes the rules and regulations and other policies for students) should be fair to ensure they cannot make unexpected changes to the course, for example to its content or structure, or to costs. Where problems arise the university should ensure its complaint handling processes are accessible, clear and fair to students.
The CMA’s advice to universities and students
With higher education playing a key role in the economy, compliance with consumer protection law is not only important in giving students the protection required by the law, but it also helps to maintain student confidence and the standards and reputation of the UK higher education sector.
It was a recommendation by the Office of Fair Trading’s Call for Information on the higher education undergraduate sector in England, published in 2014, that the CMA clarify the responsibilities of universities under consumer protection law.
We are therefore issuing advice to universities and other institutions that provide higher education courses to help them understand and comply with consumer law. We are writing to higher education providers asking them to review and, if necessary, amend their practices in line with our advice that they should:
- Give students the clear, accurate and timely information they need so they can make an informed decision about what and where to study.
- Ensure that their terms and conditions are fair.
- Ensure that their complaint handling processes are clear, accessible, and fair.
It’s also important that students know their rights, so we have published information on how consumer law applies to them so they can expect and demand fair treatment from universities.
Does your uni comply with consumer law?
We will monitor the sector and in October 2015 we’ll be reviewing the position on compliance with the law – so we would welcome input from students, stakeholders and universities and other providers on their experiences.
If you wish to report a potential breach of consumer law by a higher education provider to the CMA, you can do so here.
We will also work closely with Which? on consumer law compliance to ensure universities and students understand its importance in this sector.
This is a guest post by Nisha Arora, Senior Director in the Competition and Market Authority’s Enforcement Directorate. All opinions are Nisha’s own, not necessarily those of Which?
Update 22 July 2016
The CMA has carried out a review of higher education (HE) providers to ensure all are complying with consumer protection law.
The review found some universities are moving in the right direction, while others are still falling short of the mark.
The CMA has agreed action with some universities following shortfalls found in the review and have written to all university vice chancellors reminding them of their obligations under consumer law.
Choosing a university is a big decision to make and it’s clear that there are still barriers to making an informed decision. We want the government to ensure all universities comply with consumer law and give the proposed new Office for Students the necessary powers to hold universities to account.