Examination of universities' policies on making course changes after students have enrolled

The consumer watchdog, Which!, has published a report examining the policies of universities regarding the right to carry out course changes after…

The consumer watchdog, Which!, has published a report examining the policies of universities regarding the right to carry out course changes after enrolment. The report reveals that terms used by some universities may well be breaching consumer law.Firstly, here are background figures summarising the reports:

  • Which! asked 142 providers to share their policies on the matter. 131 universities responded to the request, one declined and 10 did not respond.
  • Which! considers that 51% of the HE providers that responded to the request have policies giving them a wide discretion in relation to make course changes. Which! then classified HE providers into categories depending on the policies of each institution.

The classification is as follows:

  • 20% of the providers are considered to apply terms that Which! consider to be unlawful and in contravention of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 (UTCCR).
  • 31% are said to use bad practice terms.
  • 37% did not provide enough for Which! to conduct the investigation hence students may not be aware of their position.
  • 6% apply correct terms but those terms should be improved.
  • One provider meets the best practices criteria of the consumer watchdog.

As a result of the report, Which! has called for immediate action by universities to amend their policies according to current laws and guidance draft by the CMA. The watchdog emphasises that it is paramount for students to be aware prior to enrolment that terms of their contract may be subject to variation during the course of their study.

Simply providing notice of potential changes or offering the possibility of ending the contract if the terms are amended is insufficient. It is necessary that students are given appropriate remedies to deal with contract variations. The report also shows that universities employ a wide selection of terms from those giving absolute discretion to providers to others allowing very limited changes provided the student cohort agrees unanimously.  

In the view of Which!, variations to courses should only be permitted where the change is beneficial to students or necessary in response to an event outside of the provider’s control that it could not plan for.

We will track carefully how the CMA respond to the Which! report.

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