Protecting students if a course, campus or university closes

University or college closure

Universities registered with us could be asked to take additional steps to protect students if the whole university or college is at risk of closing the higher education programmes it offers.

Student protection directions

All universities and colleges that are registered with us must already provide and publish a student protection plan.

We can also take more targeted action if we think that a university or college may close its higher education offer.

By using ‘student protection directions’, we can require a university or college that we think may close all or most of its higher education courses to produce and, where needed put into action, a ‘market exit plan’.

In some institutions, closing higher education might not mean closing the whole institution – for example, a college might offer other types of courses or qualifications, such as A-levels and NVQs. We protect higher education students in particular.

Find out more about student protection directions.

Market exit plans

This is a special type of plan which sets out the measures that a university or college will put in place to protect students if it closes.

These plans may include measures which cover:

  • Teach out: to make sure students can complete their course of study and achieve the qualification they would have expected, or complete the current academic year or term with a credit to transfer to an alternative provider
  • Student transfer: to make sure students can transfer to another higher education provider and continue and complete their studies. Students should be supported with all the options to make an informed choice, and the provider should make sure that the arrangements are in place to support a smooth transfer
  • Exit awards: to make sure that students have a formal record of their achievement with the provider that is closing
  • Information, advice and guidance: to make sure that students receive information and guidance in relation to the circumstances they face.

The OfS can:

  • direct a provider to publish information contained within its plans where we consider it is in the interest of current or future students
  • where necessary, direct a university to take or refrain from taking specific action.

All universities and colleges registered with us are required to provide a student protection plan.

But we can only take more targeted action with universities and other higher education providers that are not further education bodies (further education colleges and sixth form colleges). This is because there are other arrangements already in place to protect the interests of students in the event that a further education body closes.

A university or college might face financial difficulties because it has unexpectedly low income from tuition fees, for example because it is not attracting and keeping as many students as it had forecast. It could also be that it is facing expected costs.

It is important to say that a university or college facing financial difficulties might recover and not close in the end. It is very rare that a university or college has to close all or most of its higher education courses, but it does sometimes happen.

Other aspects of our regulation help to ensure that universities and colleges have good governance and management in place to reduce the risk that they will get into these kinds of difficulties.

If you are a student and you feel you are not getting the information or support you need, your university or college should have a clear complaints process in place. Find out more about how to complain.

Published 31 March 2021

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