Student and consumer protection during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

We have published guidance for universities and colleges registered with us about how we will approach the regulation of student protection during the period of disruption resulting from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

Read the guidance on student and consumer protection

What should students expect?

We recognise that the pandemic is causing a lot of disruption to students’ experience of higher education. The guidance makes clear that we expect universities and colleges to:

  • give prospective and current students clear information about what they can expect from their course in the next academic year. This includes the extent to which initial teaching will be online and how this will happen and what support there will be for online learning
  • keep students updated on how teaching might be delivered in different scenarios as public health advice changes
  • make sure that their terms and conditions are fair and transparent
  • make sure students can access complaints processes which are accessible, clear and fair.

How to complain

If you are concerned about any aspect of the way your university or college is responding to the coronavirus pandemic, there are several things you can do. Read our information on how to complain.

How to send a notification

If you believe your university or college may not meet our expectations, you can send us a notification.

A notification is an important aspect of our approach to regulation. It allows students, staff members and other third parties to let us know about an issue within a university or college that is registered with the OfS, which might not show up in the data or information we receive.

If we think a notification raises concerns about a provider, we will follow up and, if necessary, consider taking regulatory action. We will not contact a notifier on the progress or outcome of the issue that has been raised. Read more about notifications.

The following are examples of behaviour which may be of interest to us:

  • Students not being given proper support, e.g. where IT systems do not support effective fully online or blended learning and the provider is not taking adequate steps to address this
  • A provider introducing a blanket policy on refunds and refusing to consider refunds for those who wish to leave their courses as a result of teaching having switched wholly online
  • Not supplying self-isolating students in provider-run accommodation with the things necessary to continue learning effectively, e.g. adequate internet connectivity, facilitated access to food, wellbeing support, etc
  • A provider stopping face-to-face teaching and only providing significantly reduced course content or contact hours through online teaching with no plan to make this up later in the year.

This list is not exhaustive. If you believe that your higher education provider is not complying with our conditions of registration during the pandemic, you should notify us of this by emailing [email protected]s.org.uk.

Notifications can be made individually or as a group, and we accept anonymous notifications. Find out more about notifications and how we use them.

Questions and answers

Your university or college should be keeping you informed about how your course is being delivered.

It is essential that your university or college provides you with as much clarity as possible on what you should expect. Where the situation changes universities should provide regular information updates.

Your university or college should give you clear information about what you can expect from them over the coming weeks and months and they should be able to answer any questions that you have.

If you have any concerns, raise these with your university or college in the first instance.

You have a right to good quality higher education – whether that is taught online, in-person or a mixture of the two. If you feel that this is not happening you can raise your concerns with your university or college directly. If a resolution cannot be found, you can then escalate your complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.

You can also inform us, and we can and will follow-up if we believe that the university or college has not taken all reasonable steps to protect standards or where quality is slipping for groups of students.

Further advice is available on our page on how to complain.

Yes, the OfS works with representatives from each of these organisations as part of the Consumer Benefit Forum.

The Consumer Benefit 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.

Published 10 June 2020
Last updated 30 November 2020
30 November 2020
Question added about working with DfE, OIA and CMA on consumer protection issues.
01 October 2020
FAQs reviewed and updated to reflect current situation
30 June 2020
Signpost to new page on how to complain

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