Fairness of Universities' terms and conditions for students

Office of Fair Trading (OFT) closed consumer enforcement case.

Case reference number: CRE-E/28985 

Complainant: National Union of Students

Issue

The OFT opened an investigation considering the terms and conditions and practices used by some universities to prevent students from graduating or enrolling onto the next academic year or using university facilities if they owe monies to the university which relate to non-tuition fee debts such as for accommodation or childcare, or to withhold services the student may be said to be paying for if they engage in conduct (unrelated to academic performance) of which the university disapproves.

Relevant Legislation

The Enterprise Act 2002, the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 ('UTCCRs'), the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 ('UCTA'), and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 ('CPRs').

Summary

The OFT has now published a report setting out the findings from its investigation and its views on the fairness and lawfulness of these terms and practices.

We have concluded that use of and reliance upon contract terms to withhold graduation or progression or otherwise exclude students from tuition for non-payment of non-tuition fee debts, especially where applied in a blanket fashion and regardless of circumstances, is open to challenge as unfair under the UTCCRs and/or may be unreasonable under the UCTA. We also consider that practices around the use of such terms may constitute unfair commercial practices under the CPRs.

We also consider that withholding services that the student may be said to be paying for, as a disciplinary measure, may be unfair if appropriate standards of transparency and fairness are not met. However we have not identified any widespread concerns that such standards are not already in place. In January 2014 we published a summary note clarifying our views on this issue.

The OFT expects all universities to refrain from using potentially unfair and/or unreasonable terms and practices and recommends that universities review their rules and regulations, other terms and conditions, and practices in light of the OFT's views and make amendments where necessary. We have written directly to all UK universities and other Higher Education institutions to draw to their attention the OFT's report and to encourage them to not to use terms and practices that the OFT considers may be unfair.

The publication of the report marks the closure of the OFT's investigation.

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