Higher education: consumer protection review

The CMA has received commitments from 7 universities.


Date Action
22 July 2016 Compliance review findings report published
April 2016 First stage of compliance review concludes
1 October 2015 Compliance review commences
12 March 2015 Final advice published
19 November 2014 Launch of consultation on draft consumer protection law advice
20 May 2014 Case opened

Consumer Benefit Forum

30 November 2020: The Consumer Benefit Forum comprising the Department of Education, the Office for Students, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator and the CMA meets on a regular basis to discuss emerging issues of mutual interest in the higher education sector. See the Office for Students website for more information about the Consumer Benefit Forum.

The CMA has been asked to re-iterate its views on consumer protection law in relation to the following issues: (i) Providing information to prospective students about potential changes to the courses they may be considering applying for. (ii) The use of terms which allow HE providers a wide discretion to vary aspects of the educational service. (iii) The use of terms which exclude or limit liability for a failure to deliver the agreed educational service or for delivering a different educational service. Having discussed this with the members of the Consumer Benefit Forum the CMA has produced a document which draws together its published views in these areas.

University of Liverpool undertaking

21 August 2019: University of Liverpool will not prevent students from graduating, receiving certificates or re-enrolling and accessing the university library and computing services, because of non-tuition fee debts.

University of East Anglia undertaking

8 February 2017: Students will receive a fairer deal at the University of East Anglia (UEA) after the CMA secured changes to the university’s contract terms.

University of Glasgow undertaking

5 December 2016: Glasgow University will not prevent students from graduating or re-enrolling because of non-tuition fee debts, after CMA intervention.

Compliance review findings

22 July 2016: The CMA has published a report on its compliance review findings and sent an open letter to HE providers setting out the action we expect them to take.

The purpose of the report is to share the findings of the CMA’s review in order to promote compliance across the sector. The CMA has also published details of undertakings secured from 3 universities to improve how they deal with students.

First stage of compliance review concludes

21 April 2016: Following the publication of the CMA’s advice on consumer protection law to HE providers, we have now concluded the first stage of our compliance review. We have:

  • considered the intelligence received from stakeholders in the sector
  • developed our own research by reviewing a number of HE providers’ documents, focusing on the issues addressed in our HE advice, including variation of course content, variation of course fees, additional course costs, academic sanctions for non-tuition fee debt and complaint procedures
  • asked stakeholders and surveyed HE providers (Universities UK and GuildHE members) to find out how useful they have found our compliance advice and what actions they have taken as a result

We are now engaging with several HE providers on compliance issues and analysing the additional information they are providing.

We will provide a summary of the compliance review, including results from the CMA’s survey of HE providers, along with an update on the CMA’s engagement with a number of HE providers, in July 2016.

UCL revises student debt policy

13 November 2015: University College London (UCL) will ensure that students are not prevented from graduating or re-enrolling because of non-academic debts, following action by the CMA.

Compliance review commences

22 October 2015: Following publication in March of advice for providers on their consumer law obligations to undergraduate students, the CMA has commenced a review to assess compliance with the law across the sector. The review commenced on 1 October 2015 and closed on 22 July 2016.

Final advice published

12 March 2015: The CMA has published the final version of advice informing providers about their consumer law obligations to undergraduate students. We’ve also published some materials for undergraduate students informing them of their rights under consumer protection law.

HE draft consumer protection law advice consultation

19 November 2014: Following further work, and engagement with stakeholders, the CMA has opened a consultation on draft consumer protection law advice for UK HE providers in relation to their dealings with undergraduate students. The draft advice is intended for publicly funded universities, further education colleges that offer HE courses and privately funded universities and colleges.

Case opened

20 May 2014: Following the Office of Fair Trading’s (OFT) call for information (CfI) into higher education in England, the CMA is taking forward the OFT recommendation that the CMA ‘undertake further work to assess the extent to which the practices identified may affect students, clarifies the responsibilities of universities under consumer protection law, and identifies the best way to address these issues’.

Work has started to engage with the relevant stakeholders in the sector and undertake further research. The CMA expects to conclude the work by early 2015.

The CMA is also carrying out a review of competition and regulation in higher education in England following the OFT’s CfI work.


Team leader

Tracy Moore (tracy.moore@cma.gov.uk, 020 3738 6280)

Project director

Gordon Ashworth (gordon.ashworth@cma.gov.uk, 020 3738 6145)

Senior responsible officer

Nisha Arora (nisha.arora@cma.gov.uk, 020 3738 6853)

Published 21 April 2016
Last updated 30 November 2020 + show all updates
  1. Consumer Benefit Forum update, with restatement of CMA’s views, published.

  2. University of Liverpool undertaking published: it has agreed to stop academic sanctions for student non-tuition fee debts.

  3. University of East Anglia undertaking added.

  4. University of Glasgow undertaking added.

  5. Compliance review findings published.

  6. Update added.