Changes to university courses
With university fees having increased up to £9,000 per year for students in England, it’s important to ensure you get what you sign up for.
And it's important that you feel your degree or university course is giving you value for money.
Recent Which? research found that one third of students didn't think their course was value for money.
Students also expressed concerns about the support received to help them succeed in employment, the quality of the academic experience and the cost of university.
In addition, many students reported experiencing issues relating to the organisation of their course.
One fifth of all students who said their course had been worse than expected attributed this to some type of poor course management.
In addition, many students reported that they were required to cover additional course costs.
Many students also told us they had experienced unexpected changes to their course, such as a change in who teaches a module, changes to module content, a change in course location or a rise in fees.
And, for some students these changes had a significant impact on them. To find out more about a wide range of university courses, visit our Which? University website.
Minor or major change?
Minor changes to a degree course are not unusual.
For example, minor changes to your timetable or modules are changes that are unlikely to impact significantly on you or your course.
However, some changes can have a very significant impact on you if they are a major departure from what you signed up to.
Examples of major changes:
- increase in fees midway through a year
- change of course location to another campus
- change to the accreditation that you receive at the end of the course
- a material change to the modules you have to do to complete the course
If you have experienced one of these types of changes, you could consider making a formal complaint and seeking redress, which could be financial.
Universities and degree course providers should give you the following information before you start your course:
- Course content, structure and length, the location of study and award given on successfully completing the course
- Total cost of the course, including tuition fees and additional costs such as field trips and lab equipment
- Clear and accessible terms and conditions, including rules and policies relating to student behaviour
- Any rights you have to cancel should you change your mind
- Information on their complaints handling process
Your consumer rights
Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, companies and organisations are not allowed to use misleading actions to get you to sign a contract and part with your money.
In the context of a degree course, it might be a misleading action if the course was described as having particular core attributes which in fact are not the case.
For example, if you paid for a course because you were told that it could be completed on a part-time basis, but it turned out to be a full-time only course.
As of 1 October 2014 you now have new rights to financial redress under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations if you’ve been the victim of misleading actions, which mean you could be due a refund.
You might also potentially be entitled to compensation.
Misleading omissions are also banned under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.
This means that a company or organisation can’t hide or leave out information which would lead you to change your mind about signing a contract.
For example, if you were told about the headline cost of your course before you signed up, but you were not told about other compulsory fees (such as lab fees) that you would have to pay.
You can’t claim any financial redress for misleading omissions under these regulations, but making a complaint could still lead to your university or course provider changing its ways, or could prompt intervention by a regulator.
Don’t stand for unfair terms
If you've had a significant change made to your course and your university is saying there's nothing you can do because it has a right to make the change under the terms of your contract, your university could be holding you to unfair contract terms.
The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations state that contract terms in standard form contracts must be fair.
This means that a contract term could be deemed unfair if it allows your university or course provider to materially change your course (a 'variation clause') without your consent and without good reason.
Your university cannot rely on an unfair variation clause to make detrimental changes to your course.
Things within the course provider's control, which they could have predicted and planned for, are unlikely to be a valid reason to make a significant change.
How to complain
If your course has been changed in a way that you think is unfair, find out how to make a complaint and seek redress.