Choosing the right course and course provider is a very important decision – you’ll be investing a lot of time, money, and effort, and it can be difficult to change if you’re not satisfied. Knowing your rights under consumer law will help make sure you get all the information you need and are treated fairly during your studies. You can find out more about this on the Competition and Markets Authority website.
A word of warning: This information only applies to students who are ‘consumers’ under consumer law. Generally speaking, if you are acting for purposes outside your trade, business, or profession, you will be considered a ‘consumer’. See the below section ‘What can you do if things go wrong?’ for organisations that can give you further advice on whether you are a ‘consumer’ under consumer law.
What should you check when choosing a course provider and course?
Information in prospectuses and guides may have been produced before the impact of coronavirus was known. Universities and colleges are now updating their information to reflect how they’re now planning to run their courses – this may result in larger lectures being run online, changes to term dates, and adaptations to campuses to allow them to implement social distancing guidelines. Check the course providers' websites for the latest information, so you are fully aware of any impacts, and contact them if you have any questions.
The Office for Students and Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) have developed guidance on what information you should expect from course providers.
You should read and understand this information before making a decision. You should also be given a reasonable opportunity to read and understand the terms and conditions of the contract between yourself and the course provider before you accept their offer of a place.
What should you expect when you accept a place?
Once you accept an offer of a place, a contract is formed and the course provider’s terms and conditions apply. These must be fair, limiting their scope to change the cost or content of a course.
What can you do if things go wrong?
If you think your course provider may not have met its obligations under consumer law, speak to the staff delivering the course, those who deal with student problems, or the student advice office or students' union. If you think it is still unresolved and wish to make a complaint, you should do this using the course provider’s complaints process, which must be fair, transparent, and easily accessible to students.
Alternatively, you could contact your NUS adviser, Citizens Advice (England, Wales, and Scotland) consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06, or Consumerline (Northern Ireland) on 0300 123 6262.
These consumer helplines are staffed by trained consumer advice professionals. They will be able to advise you whether a HE provider appears to have met their obligations under consumer law or not. They can also give you advice about your particular issue and possible remedies. The Citizens Advice consumer service can also help you report a problem to Trading Standards.
If you are not happy with how your course provider handles a complaint, you may be able to refer it to an independent complaints scheme, such as the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for England and Wales, or the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.