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In March 2015, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) provided guidance to Higher Education Institutions which sets out their obligations to undergraduate students to provide up-to-date, accurate programme information, including the full costs of programmes, and not just the tuition fee. To ensure all our information is robust and we are fully compliant with consumer protection law, the University also applies the CMA guidance to information it shares about postgraduate programmes. 

Compliance with consumer protection law including the CMA is a key condition of our registration with the Office for Students (OfS) and failure to comply could result in legal repercussions or impact our registration with the OfS. This guidance has been drafted for staff to support them in working within the published guidance, mandatory training is also provided for key members of staff.

How does this apply to the information we provide about our courses?  

As the guidance outlines: 

“Choosing what and where to study is, for most students, likely to be a ‘one off’ decision and involves the investment of a significant amount of time and money. Prospective students therefore need to be given clear, intelligible, unambiguous and timely information by HE providers so they know in advance what is being offered and can compare different courses and HE providers.” 

It is the University’s responsibility to ensure the following happens: 

  1. We provide prospective students with important information (known as ‘material information’), for example about our courses and their costs, at each stage of the applicant journey, including at the research and application, offer and enrolment stages 

  1. We provide prospective students with the necessary ‘pre-contract information’ before they accept an offer of a place on a course 

  1. We ensure the pre-contract information remains accurate and up to date, as any changes to it require the express consent of the prospective student; and 

  1. We specifically flag any terms and conditions that are particularly surprising or otherwise important, for example, if students are required to have completed an occupational health screening before starting their course.  

What does this mean in practical terms? 

The University must ensure that the required ‘material’ information accurately reflects what students will study and how they will be assessed, and that the information is easily available to applicants in a timely manner at the pre-contractual stage (before their offer is made), and the post-contractual stage (once their offer is made).  
The pre-contractual stage covers promotional materials and relates to the period students are recruited to join the University. For undergraduate students, it effectively starts 18 months prior to enrolment when the UCAS admissions cycle begins. For postgraduate students, it starts 12 months before enrolment when direct applications open. 
The post-contractual stage starts from the point at which the offer is made and accepted, which could be from 1 October in the year preceding the student enrolling the following September, therefore up to almost 12 months prior to enrolment. 

It is important to note that when an offer is accepted by an applicant a contract is formed for the duration of time the student is studying at the University. Any changes to material information that been provided to the prospective student should be communicated to them before an offer is accepted, and they should expressly consent to any changes to the that may occur before or after enrolment. Courses must be delivered as originally advertised unless current students are consulted and consent to changes. Students must be given the information about how to complain if they are unhappy with proposed course changes.  

Material information will typically include: 

  • Content of the course. If the modules, or other course components such as placements or field trips, that will be offered have or may change or reduce, or will be delivered in different years, this needs to be made clear.  
  • Length of the course. If there are changes to the anticipated length of the course, then these should be explicit. 
  • How the course will be delivered. This includes the extent to which the course may be delivered online rather than face-to-face and how the balance between, lectures, seminars and self-learning may change. Prospective students will be particularly interested in the volume and arrangements of contact hours and support and resources for learning if this may take place online and virtually. 
  • Cost of the course. Information about the cost of a course should be explicit up front and should not increase once the course has started and so if a provider is offering a discount only for the year(s) in which any adjustments will be made and the cost will increase to a ‘normal’ level thereafter this needs to be made clear to the applicant. Providers should also be clear about any extra costs that students might need to bear. 
  • How the course will be assessed. 
  • Award. If there are potential changes to the qualification that is awarded, for example professional accreditation. 
  • Possible locations of teaching. 

These pages provide detailed information about what you need to do in managing information so that the University complies with the CMA guidance. 


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