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Which? reveals ‘unlawful’ university course terms

Universities need a lecture on consumer law

Students feel confused and rushed over Clearing choices

University students are being left open to unfair course changes, with some universities using terms we consider to be breaching consumer law, new Which? research has revealed.

We sent Freedom of Information Act requests to universities across the UK asking for their policies on making course changes after students have signed up.

Based on the information provided by universities, half (51%) use terms that give them freedom to change courses even when these changes could have been prevented. Of these, one in five (20%) use terms we consider to be unlawful and in breach of consumer contract regulations. 

Three in 10 (31%) use terms that we consider to be bad practice and likely to be unlawful. You can read the full investigation and findings here

University course changes

Just 5% of universities use terms that we would consider to be good practice, and only one university – University of York – uses terms that we consider to be best practice. 

Nearly four in ten (37%) universities that responded didn’t provide enough information for us to check if they can make unfair changes, suggesting students would be unlikely to work out where they stand on changes to their courses.

Earlier Which? research raised concerns that universities grant themselves wide discretion to make course changes once students have enrolled, with six in ten (58%) students experiencing course changes (such as modules or teaching location changes) and 12% facing an increase in fees during their course.

Head to our Consumer Rights website if you’ve experienced a change to your degree course or want to complain to your course provider.

Unfair university terms

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: ‘It’s worrying to see such widespread use of unfair terms in university contracts. Students deserve to know what they can expect from a course before signing up so that they can be confident they will get what they pay for.

‘With tuition fees higher than ever before, we want universities to take immediate action to give students the protection they’re entitled to.’

We want all providers to ensure their terms are complying with the law and for the higher education sector to consider a standard, consumer-friendly format for student contracts, so students can be clear what they’re signing up to upfront. We will be submitting our findings to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and are calling on the regulator to check if universities are complying with its guidance.

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