Higher education sector call for information

The OFT published a report of its findings from the call for information on the higher education (undergraduate) sector in England.

Call for Information

On 22 October 2013 the OFT issued a call for information (CfI) on the higher education (undergraduate) sector in England.

Universities play a crucial role in the UK economy. They contribute directly to economic growth, employment and local economic activity, delivering skilled workers into the wider economy, and contributing to export earnings. In many respects, UK universities are world leaders in research and teaching.

In launching this project, the OFT wanted to understand whether universities are able to compete effectively and respond to students’ increased expectations, and whether students are able to make well-informed choices, which would help drive competition.

The OFT was particularly interested in receiving information about how universities compete, the impact regulation has on universities, and the student experience of the current system.

Findings

On 14 March 2014 the OFT published a report of its findings from the CfI  (pdf 785kb). The OFT found that competition in the higher education sector in England is, in many respects, working well. It has, however, identified some policies and practices which might prevent universities from fully meeting student needs and maintaining their enviable international reputation.

However, responses to the CfI highlighted a number of concerns, most notably:

  • students not being given some key  information, such as their teaching staff’s experience or long-term employment prospects, to enable them to choose the most appropriate course and institution

  • some policies and practices by universities, such as changes to elements of the course and/or fees, or not providing all the relevant information about their course, that could put students at a disadvantage and might, in some cases, breach consumer protection legislation 

  • while the complaints process has improved, it could be quicker and more accessible

  • the sector’s regulatory regime is overly complex and does not reflect the increased role of student choice and the wider range of higher education institutions. In particular, there are concerns about the existence of a ‘level playing field’, the role of self-regulation, and the lack of arrangements should a university or course close.

On the basis of these findings, the OFT recommends that its successor body, the Competition and Markets Authority:

  • undertakes 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 with, and through, stakeholders to inform the design of a regulatory regime which can better contribute to maximising the potential benefits of choice and competition.

Contacts

Team leader

Carmen Suarez (carmen.suarez@cma.gsi.gov.uk)

Project director

Tony Donaldson (tony.donaldson@cma.gsi.gov.uk)

Senior responsible officer

Daniel Gordon (daniel.gordon@cma.gsi.gov.uk)

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