Higher education providers have obligations and students have rights under sector regulation and consumer law.
These obligations and rights continue to apply during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
A range of guidance is available to help higher education providers and students understand their obligations and rights. The guidance has been produced by several organisations, each with important and complementary roles.
- The Department for Education (DfE) is responsible for oversight of the higher education sector in England
See DfE’s guidance
- The Office for Students (OfS) is the statutory regulator for higher education in England which uses notifications from students and other third parties as part of its regulatory monitoring activity in order to ensure that providers comply with their ongoing conditions of registration, including having due regard to relevant guidance on how to comply with consumer protection law
See the OfS’s guidance
- The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) is the independent body set up to review student complaints about higher education providers in England and Wales and issues guidance to share learning from complaints
See the OIA’s guidance
- The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is the UK’s lead competition and consumer authority. It issues advice and guidance to businesses to help them understand their consumer law obligations and to promote compliance. It has issued advice for higher education providers on consumer law and taken enforcement action to help secure change across the sector. It does not provide advice to individual businesses or consumers and cannot assist with individual complaints.
See the CMA’s views for providers on consumer law, and its restatement of those views on certain issues.
About the forum
Representatives from each of these organisations are part of the Consumer Benefit Forum which was formed following the Government’s consultation on the OfS Regulatory Framework in 2017.
The forum meets on a regular basis to discuss emerging issues of mutual interest in the higher education sector.
These discussions have been particularly important throughout the pandemic. Members of the forum ensure that while the guidance produced by each organisation may differ in focus and detail, the basic principles are the same. For example, contract terms must be clear and fair, students are able to make informed decisions when choosing where and what to study, and students are treated fairly.
The forum is currently working on new ways of making students aware of their rights and raising awareness about providers’ internal complaints processes, how students can access these and what the process entails.