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Education e-briefing- CMA implications of the proposed “system-wide” introduction of student contracts

  • United Kingdom
  • Education - Briefings


Welcome to the twelfth in our series of fortnightly Student Contract: ''CMA'' Implications ebriefs for universities, colleges and private providers. These ebriefs highlight aspects of the application of consumer law to the student contract which pose challenges for the tertiary education sector.

This time we focus on the implications of Jo Johnson’s comments to the Higher Education sector at Reform on 20th July 2017.

Universities and Science minister, Jo Johnson, has announced new plans for the Higher Education sector, with a view of ensuring the system must:

• “provide the resources to sustain our world-class HE sector;
• fairly share costs between the general taxpayer and the individual student; and
• remove barriers to access, especially for the most deprived.”

Proposals include bringing forward the establishment of the Office for Students, a new regulatory body to be established under the Higher Education and Research Act, to January 2018.

Amongst the announcements made was bringing forward the establishment of the Office for Students, a new regulatory body created under the Higher Education and Research Act to replace HEFCE, to January 2018, three months ahead of the full launch of the organisation.

It has also been announced that one of the main priorities for the Office for Students will be carrying out a consultation on a “system-wide” introduction of student contracts between students and universities. The reasoning behind such a proposal focuses on ensuring effective consumer protection for students, and providing them with “greater contractual certainty”.

The Higher Education sector has been under intense scrutiny over the past few years, including by the Competition and Market Authority and the consumer association Which?, in relation to the extent to which their contractual terms, processes and practices comply with consumer law. This scrutiny has led to many institutions undertaking large scale reviews of their contractual terms and practices with students, to ensure their dealings are fair and transparent. What this announcement appears to suggest is that there may still be work to be done.

It will be interesting to see the approach the Office for Students takes in relation to the consultation, and any follow-up action, particularly given the complexity of the student/university contract. Some critics are warning that a “one size fits all” model contract is unlikely to be achievable, particularly given the different ways in which institutions’ approach contracting with their students, and other differentiating complexities such as course types and fee structures.

Eversheds Sutherland has a wealth of experience advising on student contract / “CMA”-related issues in the HE and FE sectors. If you would like to discuss how Eversheds Sutherland may assist you in managing any of the issues addressed above (or any other student contract/consumer related issues) please contact Siân Jones-Davies or Eve England.