Higher education regulator the Office for Students (OfS) has called for universities and colleges to do more to ensure that prospective students are given clear information about courses before they apply, that terms and conditions should be fair, and that complaints mechanisms should be in place to enable redress when students’ consumer rights are not met.
The OfS said it has already referred several cases to National Trading Standards (NTS) and asked for potential breaches of consumer law to be investigated.
In November 2022, the regulator formed a partnership with NTS to extend its work on protecting students’ consumer rights. It has also published a new Insight brief on how students’ rights are protected by consumer law during the application process and throughout their studies.
OfS referrals to NTS can relate to unfair terms and conditions in student contracts; erroneous claims to have degree-awarding powers or a university title; and misleading advertising by ‘essay mills’ which enable students to commit academic fraud by commissioning written work.
Susan Lapworth, Chief Executive of the OfS, said: “A degree is one of the biggest financial investments a student will make in their lifetime. Many universities and colleges provide clear, accurate and timely information to help students with this significant decision.
“Yet often this isn’t the case. We also see too many cases where the terms and conditions in the contract between a university and its students may not be fair. And the increase in the case work of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator signals the continued importance of responsive complaints processes for students not satisfied with their course.
“The OfS’s regulation focuses higher education providers on the need to ensure their policies and practices comply with consumer protection law. We have also begun to refer cases to National Trading Standards where we think an institution may not have complied with the law.
“Over the next year, we plan to develop our approach further to ensure we can intervene to protect the interests of students as consumers. This may involve revisiting our current consumer protection conditions and considering replacing them with more focused requirements.
“Students and those who support them can continue to contact us through our notifications system, to inform our understanding of the issues they face.”