Our latest research finds universities using terms we consider to be breaching consumer law, leaving students open to unfair course changes after they’ve signed up. Did your uni ever make changes to your course?
Whether it’s the cost of tuition or living expenses, going to university is an expensive choice in life. But are today’s students really getting what they pay for?
When students are gearing up to go to university, they’re busy thinking about moving home, their modules, social life, and the all around excitement that comes with it. However, the decision of choosing a university is likely one of the most significant in a student’s life to date, and has huge implications on their future. They should be able to easily access and understand the terms and conditions of the university they’re considering.
Investigating university T&Cs
We wanted to see just how fair those T&Cs are, and what rules universities set for when they want to make changes to courses. To do this, we sent requests under the Freedom of Information Act to 142 universities in the UK.
Of these, 131 universities wrote back with terms and policies for us to investigate. The difficulty of this task lay in the fact that no two universities were alike. Some sent perfectly neat tables answering each of our questions, while others simply sent a link to their website for us to navigate the vast array of documents within.
We methodically went through all of these websites, terms and policies, scanning for language that set out the university’s position on making changes to courses, all the while thinking of the students who surely would never have gotten this far.
Unfair university terms
Armed with this research, we found half of the universities use terms that give them freedom to change courses even when these changes could have been prevented. Of these, one in five use terms that we consider to be unlawful and in breach of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations. Only one of the 131 unis who responded had terms we considered to be best practice.
In our view, changes to courses should only be allowed where this is beneficial to students, or necessary in response to an event outside the university’s control. If this does happen, we think that a remedy (such as compensation or support moving to an alternative course) should be available to students.
Given the amount of time it took us to review the information for each university, it’s obvious that many universities’ terms aren’t easily accessible for students. With students paying up to £9,000 to go to uni these days, we think they deserve fair and clear terms so they can be confident they’ll get what they pay for.
We think students could benefit if the higher education sector worked together to produce a standard, user-friendly format for student contracts. But we also want universities to take immediate action to give students the protection they’re entitled to. We’ll be submitting our findings to the Competition and Markets Authority and we’re calling for the regulator to check if universities are complying with its guidance.
Do you think students deserve clear terms on course changes before they sign up to a university? Was your course ever changed during your degree?