Press release

CMA advises universities and students on consumer law

The CMA has today published advice for higher education providers to help them comply with consumer law when dealing with students.

Students throwing mortar boards

The Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) advice informs providers about their consumer law obligations to undergraduate students, including advising them to:

  • give students the clear, accurate and timely information that they need so they can make an informed decision about what and where to study
  • ensure that their terms and conditions are fair, for example, so they cannot make surprising changes to the course or costs
  • ensure that their complaint handling processes are accessible, clear and fair

The CMA is writing to higher education (HE) providers asking them to review and, if necessary, amend their practices in line with the advice and has produced a 60-second summary to assist.

The CMA has also published an at-a-glance guide for undergraduates, informing them of their rights under consumer law – together with a longer guide for students and their advisers.

Students can notify the CMA of providers who may not be complying with consumer law, via a dedicated email address.

The CMA will monitor the sector and commence a review in October 2015 to assess compliance with consumer law.

Nisha Arora, Senior Director, Consumer at the CMA, said:

For most students, choosing the right university and course is a crucial one-off decision, leading to a significant investment of time and money. Consumer law is an important part of the wider academic relationship between higher education providers and students. It helps to ensure that students are given the information they need to make an informed choice about what and where to study and are then treated fairly during their period of study.

With the UK higher education sector playing a key role in our economy and having an enviable international reputation, compliance with consumer law is an important way of maintaining student confidence and the standards and reputation of the sector.

Notes for editors

  1. The CMA’s advice to higher education providers can be found here.
  2. The CMA has issued a range of images illustrating the rights undergraduate students have under consumer law.
  3. The CMA is the UK’s primary competition and consumer authority. It is an independent non-ministerial government department with responsibility for carrying out investigations into mergers, markets and the regulated industries and enforcing competition and consumer law. From 1 April 2014 it took over the functions of the Competition Commission and the competition and certain consumer functions of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), as amended by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. For more information see the CMA’s homepage on GOV.UK.
  4. This work was initiated following publication of the findings from the OFT’s call for information into the HE sector in England. The OFT recommended that the CMA undertake further work to clarify universities’ responsibilities under consumer protection law given the potential consumer protection issues found relating to information provision to students, terms and conditions, and the speed and effectiveness of complaints handling.
  5. The CMA is separately considering the current regulatory regime underpinning the HE sector in England.
  6. The CMA consulted on draft consumer law advice for UK HE providers in November 2014. Today we are also publishing our response to that consultation.
  7. For CMA updates, follow us on Twitter @CMAgovuk, Flickr and LinkedIn.
  8. Enquiries should be directed to Simon Belgard ( on 020 3738 6472.
Published 12 March 2015