Universities told to treat students fairly

Competition and Markets Authority to improve University practices

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In an open letter, Nisha Arora, CMA Senior Director, said some universities “still have work to do” in order to fully comply with consumer protection laws.

Last year in March, the CMA set out how Higher Education facilities could meet their consumer law obligations. It included providing information to better enable students to compare between universities and courses. Some institutions were even told to amend their information to better reflect their practises.

In the following October, the CMA began to review Universities in order to affirm whether they were complying with the consumer laws. Twenty-five Universities were singled out for particular attention. Three universities had to make the following changes:

-The University of Buckingham is no longer able to utilise academic sanctions in order to recover accommodation fees, library fees or other non-tuition fee debts.

-Birkbeck University London is no longer able to stop students from using the complaints procedure if they still have tuition fee debt

-Bucks New University is to scrap its contract rule that invalidates complaints if the student has attended a graduation event.

Previously, the consumer group Which? had demanded the government “hold universities to account.” The CMA’s review adds that the Universities must now be careful of their contract clause wording, or else find themselves in breach of consumer laws. Ambiguous wording relates to:

-allowing wide discretion to vary tuition fees or courses

-unclear additional costs

-prevention of students graduating if they owe non-academic fees

-attempts to restrict complaints

The director of policy and campaigns at Which? Alex Neill said students “often struggle to find the information to enable them to make an informed choice.

“The government must ensure that all universities comply with consumer law and give the proposed new Office for Students the powers it needs to hold universities to account who fail to do so.”

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