Despite the fact that there remains a good deal of debate within the HE sector as to whether or not students should conceptually be characterised as consumers, legislators, regulators and “consumer champions” are pressing forward on the basis that, legally, they are.
Three developments highlight this point: the ongoing passage through parliament of the Consumer Rights Bill; the publication by the Competition & Markets Authority of draft advice on consumer protection law (subject to consultation until 18 December 2014); and the report by Which? “A degree of value: Value for Money from the Student Perspective”, published in November.
A consensus is emerging through these differing strands of activity which raises questions for the sector in the following areas:
Although students have access to a vast amount of information about institutions, there is perceived to be a need to be more focused about the key features of what is on offer to students, which elements might be susceptible to change and what the benefits of study at a particular institution are. There seems to be a renewed interest in the concept of a formal “student contract”.
Not only should institutions be more transparent about what they are offering, they should ensure that all their dealings with students are fair. Certain current practices, such as disclaimers or unilateral powers to change courses or locations and impose “hidden” charges are regarded as inherently unfair and may be more susceptible to challenge in the future.
The current remedies for disgruntled students will be enhanced in future by a right to a repeat performance and a right to a discount on price. Institutions will be expected to have effective and streamlined complaints processes and all institutions whose students are eligible to receive student support will be subject to the jurisdiction of the OIA.
Please do get in touch to find out more about how we can make a positive difference to you.
Smita Jamdar, Partner & Head of Education
T: 0800 763 1332