Education & Family

Many universities 'breach consumer law', says Which?

Students in library
Image caption Universities are required to provide information to allow prospective students to compare courses

Three-quarters of UK universities surveyed breach consumer law by failing to provide vital information to students, Which? consumer group says

In September, researchers compared the websites of 50 universities offering psychology courses.

Of these, 38 did not give all the details required under consumer law, including fees, contact hours, workload and teaching staff, says Which?

But university think tank million+ said websites were only part of the picture.

In March, the Competition and Market's Authority (CMA) set out how universities should comply with consumer law, including providing information to allow students to compare courses.

Which? looked at the websites of 28 higher education institutions selected at random, plus 22 others whose practices had been highlighted as "unlawful" in a 2014 study by the consumer group.

They assessed information including:

  • entry requirements
  • core modules
  • contact hours and workload
  • staff qualifications
  • assessment method
  • course location and length
  • fees and additional costs

Which? claims institutions, including Canterbury Christ Church University and Glasgow Caledonian University, failed to provide some 30% of the information required.

Glasgow Caledonian University said it was "committed to providing the best possible service to students and potential applicants and would like to reassure them that we endeavour at all times to present information in the clearest and fairest manner."

Canterbury Christ Church University said it had taken immediate action to address the issues highlighted in the report, "which are extremely important to us".

A spokeswoman said the university was committed to meeting the guidelines and had taken steps to update and display all data, including all fees and costs, directly on its own course web pages,

None of those studied had consistently provided good practice across all areas, the researchers said, but Leeds Trinity University and the University of Greenwich had demonstrated good practice across a number of areas.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said it was "disappointing to find that a large number of universities are still breaching consumer law".

"We now need all universities to make better information easily available and accessible for prospective students," he added.

Image copyright PA
Image caption University groups said the Which? research risked giving a misleading picture

But million+ chief executive Pam Tatlow said websites were only one source of information for prospective students.

Other sources included:

  • open days
  • course tutors
  • advice from schools and colleges
  • comparison websites such as Unistats

She said: "Judging the performance of universities on such a partial basis is misleading and unlikely to help students understand the admissions process or make the right choice of university and course.

"A 10-day survey of a small selection of web pages for a single course undertaken almost five months before the majority of students apply and 12 months before they start their degrees, is hardly the basis on which to suggest that universities are not complying with their duties under competition law."

Universities UK chief executive Nicola Dandridge said clear and relevant information for students was important and universities continued to work with the CMA to ensure they complied with the statutory requirements in consumer protection law.

However, "it is important to recognise that the relationship that exists between a student and their university is a distinctive relationship to do with learning and teaching, rather than a standard consumer contract", added Ms Dandridge.

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