26 July 2016
Universities told off for not giving students a fair deal
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have warned UK unis they need to improve their treatment of students or face legal action.
Back in March 2015, competition watchdog the CMA set out a list of basic rules that universities must stick to in order to comply with UK consumer law, or they could face legal action.
The CMA then began reviewing unis across the country to see if changes were being made to conform to these rules – they released some of their findings this week, with a warning that unis need to be working harder to ensure they're treating students fairly.
Some of the unfair terms they exposed as currently in place include preventing students from graduating if they have library fines, and forcing students to choose between continuing with a formal complaints procedure and graduating from their course.
However, it's worth mentioning that the CMA is a government body, so we’d be interested to know their thoughts on the government’s own choice to retrospectively change the terms of student loans. Is this perhaps in breach of consumer law, too?
What the CMA reported
They CMA reported that since introducing the consumer regulations on universities, they’ve seen a lot of improvement but admitted some unis “still have a lot of work to do” to meet the required standards.
Amongst the improvements made since March 2015, they found that many unis are now making changes to their websites in order to allow prospective students to compare courses.
They've also been seen to provide clearer information to prospective students about additional course costs (compulsory field trips, for example) and fee increases (although we learned just last week that some unis are announcing fee hikes before they've been given the go-ahead from the government).
Room for improvements
The three universities singled out in the report for needing improvements were the University of Buckingham, Bucks New University and Birkbeck.
However, the CMA have also acknowledged that whilst these unis have been pulled out from the report this “does not give a clean bill of health for everyone else.”
The CMA have called on these unis to make the following changes:
- Bucks New University have been told to drop a contract rule which invalidates student complaints if they attend a graduation event.
- Birkbeck will no longer be allowed to have a rule which stops students using the complaints procedure if they have tuition fees debt (a sneaky trick that probably explains why neither of these unis made it into the list of top 10 worst unis at resolving complaints, revealed earlier in the year).
- University of Buckingham and Bucks New Uni will need to scrap the terms they have in place which prevent students from being able to graduate if they have non-academic debts (for example, student accommodation debt, library fines, canteen fees, etc.)
- Buckingham Uni will need to start providing clearer information to prospective students about additional course costs they will have to pay throughout the year.
- Birkbeck and Buckingham Unis have been told they need to change the terminology they currently use that allows for “wide discretion to vary tuition fees” and provide more information to help students understand the variations in fees that they have in place.
What happens now?
This is the first review of consumer law compliance that’s ever been done on UK universities, so hopefully this will see authorities like the CMA being more involved in future to ensure students are getting a fair deal.
We're also hoping that this could lead to the CMA or another government body being given the authority to regulate how much unis can charge now that the £9,000 tuition fee cap has been lifted. At the moment, it seems to be a matter of universities regulating themselves, which just isn't working – 55% of you told us you don't think your uni course is good value for money.
Do you feel you've had a raw deal from your uni? Tell us your story in the comments below, or contact us directly for support.
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