Uniac - July 2022

20 On the 24th November 2021, the Department for Education (DfE) wrote to vice-chancellors regarding their admissions policies and contract terms. While the letters have not been made public, it is understood that the DfE has raised concerns around universities using contract terms that allow them to withdraw offers if a course is oversubscribed. The Office for Students (OfS) has also expressed its concerns around this and their opinion that such clauses would likely contravene consumer protection law11. Lastly, on the 24th November the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) also published a statement12 reiterating its views on how consumer protection law applies in the HE sector. This is the first time that the sector has heard from the CMA since 2016. As such, we have taken the opportunity to provide a general update to audit committees on consumer protection in HE. We begin by summarising the current legal and regulatory context, followed by a discussion of potential developments, particularly in the OfS’ regulatory approach. We finish by 11 https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/news-blog-and-events/press-and-media/ofsresponds-to-cma-statement-on-consumer-law-and-the-admission-process/ 12 https://www.gov.uk/cma-cases/consumer-protection-review-of-higher-education offering some recommendations to institutions to ensure robust and continued compliance with consumer protection law and OfS expectations. Under the 2015 Consumer Rights Act, students are legally classified as “consumers” and therefore entitled to full protection under the UK’s consumer protection laws. The OfS has further enshrined these protections under regulatory condition C1, which states: The provider must demonstrate that in developing and implementing its policies, procedures and terms and conditions, it has given due regard to relevant guidance about how to comply with consumer protection law. Currently, the “relevant guidance” is the sector advice issued by the CMA back in March 201513. In this advice, the CMA emphasises universities’ legal obligations to ensure that 1) prospective and enrolled students receive accurate, clear, timely, and comprehensive information about their course; and 2) terms and conditions between universities and their students are fair. Over the past two years, Covid-19 has presented some serious challenges for universities in fulfilling these obligations. 13 https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/higher-education-consumer-lawadvice-for-providers-and-students Legal and regulatory context Background 4. Consumer Protection Law – December 2021