With the start of the new academic year looming, we look at the rights of students under consumer legislation in relation to the provision of educational services.
Consumer legislation protection will generally apply to undergraduates as they will be studying for purposes outside their trade, profession or business and universities will have to comply with their obligations in this regard.
There are various requirements on universities in terms of what information they should provide to prospective undergraduates, which include the following:
- Full details about the course - including course title, entry requirements, core modules/optional modules, details as to how the course will be delivered, methods of assessment, award to be received on completion of the course, location of the course, length of course, whether course and/or university is regulated and by whom, whether the course is accredited and any particular unusual terms.
- Total cost of the course - the stated fees that include provision for any likely future increases in the course fees. However, there should be genuine reason for any such increases; this should also include any additional costs which are likely to be incurred, including field trips, specialist equipment and an indication of these additional fees. In addition, it should be clear when fees are due and payable and any methods of payment.
- Clear terms and conditions - as is required in normal consumer contracts, universities should have clear terms and conditions which are written in plain English. These terms and conditions should be easily accessible and should not provide universities with wide discretion to change the course or alter fees. The terms should also include details about making complaints and any rights of cancellation.
- Rights to cancel - in addition, it is also important to consider whether contracts between universities and undergraduates will be classed as a distance contract under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, which will impose additional obligations in relation to the information to be provided and the undergraduates’ right to cancel.
It is very clear that universities should treat undergraduates in the same way as other consumers and that these obligations will even apply to students going through the clearing or adjustment process.