The UK has a higher education sector with a well-deserved reputation for excellence both at home and internationally. Recent years have seen a number of developments in the way that undergraduate education is organised and delivered, with a greater share of providers’ funding coming directly from student fees (rather than directly from government) and more freedom for providers as to the number of undergraduate places to offer.
As a result of these developments, student choice and competition now play a more significant role in the sector and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has reviewed whether the current regulatory framework allows students to benefit from these changes.
The CMA’s report ‘An effective regulatory framework for higher education: a policy paper’ finds that there are gaps and discrepancies in the current regulatory framework which create a patchwork regulatory environment, and result in some students being less protected than others.
The report makes a series of recommendations to the government and the sector which aim to ensure that the regulatory framework protects students and supports an increasingly diverse higher education sector. In particular, the CMA is recommending the introduction of a sector-wide baseline regulatory framework to provide students with reassurance about the quality of their provider. Such a framework is needed because choosing an undergraduate higher education provider is typically a one-off, life changing choice which is not easily reversed once it has been made.
John Kirkpatrick, Senior Director, Research, Intelligence and Advocacy at the CMA, said:
Higher education is a key contributor to the UK economy, providing a graduate workforce which helps to increase productivity and drive economic growth while improving life chances for students.
It is important that regulation protects what matters to those students while allowing new and innovative approaches to the delivery of higher education provision and encouraging providers to compete on the quality of the experience they offer to students.
The CMA will continue to work with the government and the sector to help them develop and introduce a scheme of regulation based on the principles set out by the CMA. The CMA will also advise the government on how to evaluate the impact of any future regulatory changes in the higher education sector.
The CMA has also recently published advice for higher education providers to help them comply with their consumer law obligations when dealing with undergraduate students and a guide for undergraduate students on their consumer law rights.