Students’ consumer rights should be a priority throughout their courses, says regulator

OfS chief executive Susan Lapworth speaks at an Insight event on students as consumers.

Students working at a bank of computers

Universities and colleges should ensure that prospective students get clear information about courses before they apply, terms and conditions of the contract between institutions and their students should be fair, and there should be clear complaints mechanisms to enable redress where students’ consumer rights are not met, Office for Students chief executive Susan Lapworth will say today.

As part of its work to protect students’ interests, the English higher education regulator has today also published an Insight brief on how students’ rights are protected by consumer law during the application process and throughout their studies. The brief also explores how the Office for Students’ (OfS's) regulatory approach helps ensure these rights are upheld in practice.

Choosing where and what to study is one of the biggest decisions a student is likely to make, and comes with a significant time and financial commitment. The OfS expects higher education providers to treat all students as ‘consumers’ for the purposes of consumer protection law – ensuring that their rights are protected in practice during their studies. This means that universities and colleges have responsibilities which include ensuring that:

  • students receive clear, accurate and timely information about their course and university or college
  • student contracts contain fair terms and conditions
  • there are fair mechanisms for dealing with complaints.

There are a number of laws protecting students, and comprehensive guidance about how to comply with them has been published by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The OfS’s regulation of consumer protection matters draws on the CMA's guidance.

In November 2022, the OfS formed a partnership with National Trading Standards (NTS) to extend its work on protecting students' consumer rights. The agreement means that NTS will examine each notification it receives from the OfS about a potential breach of consumer protection legislation. Referrals can relate to:

  • unfair terms and conditions in student contracts, such as terms which purport to allow providers to make fundamental changes to contracts without the consent of students or exclude or limit students' legal rights and remedies
  • organisations that wrongly claim to be registered with the OfS or to have degree awarding powers or university title
  • misleading advertising by 'essay mills' (organisations that allow students to commit academic fraud by commissioning written work).

Susan Lapworth, chief executive of the OfS, will today speak at an online event discussing the Insight brief's findings and the OfS's regulation to help safeguard students' consumer rights.

Speaking on students’ consumer rights, Susan Lapworth will say:

‘A degree is one of the biggest financial investments a student will make in their lifetime. Many universities and colleges provide clear, accurate and timely information to help students with this significant decision.

‘Yet often this isn't the case. We also see too many cases where the terms and conditions in the contract between a university and its students may not be fair. And the increase in the case work of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator signals the continued importance of responsive complaints processes for students not satisfied with their course.

‘The OfS's regulation focuses higher education providers on the need to ensure their policies and practices comply with consumer protection law. We have also begun to refer cases to National Trading Standards where we think an institution may not have complied with the law.

‘Over the next year, we plan to develop our approach further to ensure we can intervene to protect the interests of students as consumers. This may involve revisiting our current consumer protection conditions and considering replacing them with more focused requirements.

‘Students and those who support them can continue to contact us through our notifications system, to inform our understanding of the issues they face.’

For further information contact 0117 905 7676 or [email protected].

Read the Insight brief on protecting students as consumers Read more about our Insight event


  1. Read about the agreement between National Trading Standards and the OfS.
  2. Discover Uni provides prospective students with information and guidance to help them choose and compare courses across the UK. The website is managed by the OfS on behalf of the UK higher education funding and regulatory bodies, which are the OfS, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland.
Published 15 June 2023

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