UEA has been subject to an intervention by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), following “significant [course] changes”.
Changes were made to the second year of the four-year American Literature and Creative Writing undergraduate course. Previously, the second year of this course consisted entirely of optional modules. This was changed when the University introduced two new compulsory modules and limited the optional content.
Existing students and offer holders were not informed of the retrospective changes, as the University considered them to be “minor” in line with contract terms. Students would have been told if the changes had been considered “substantial.”
Following the investigation, UEA “will treat the addition of a compulsory module to a course as a substantial change” in future. In line with this, the University have also committed to “timely” updates to the website of any substantial course changes to ensure that any prospective applicants can access accurate course information.
Responding to the ruling, the Head of Learning and Teaching Services added: “The University is committed to ensuring that both current and prospective students are fully informed about their course and takes complying with consumer law extremely seriously. We responded immediately to rectify the issues raised by the CMA and are taking steps to ensure that no similar situation occurs in the future.”
Commenting on the case SU Undergraduate Education Officer Theo Antoniou Phillips said: “When students are sold their course on open days and in prospectuses, they rightly expect the Uni to deliver what’s promised. Students might not be consumers in the traditional sense but we are paying for a service and have a right to the teaching sold to us on open days, for libraries not to be full in the run up to exams, for computers to work, for optional modules to be available, for assessment to be carried out with care and returned on time, and for labs and equipment that are fit for purpose…We’ve argued for some time that for students, removing optional modules can be a major change to a course so it’s pleasing to see that the CMA has agreed and argued that the Uni’s practice of calling that a minor change is unfair in law. This case highlights the legal requirement for the University to deliver what it promises so that future changes to courses are consulted on much more carefully, and information is given to students about agreed changes much earlier”
Nisha Arora, CMA Senior Director, Consumer said: “For most students, going to university is an expensive, once in a lifetime event and they should enjoy the best possible experience. So it’s important that prospective students have accurate and up to date information when choosing their course and existing students are given timely information about any substantial changes that are made to their course. And any contract terms which deal with variation for example, to course content, should be fair…The CMA welcomes UEA’s constructive approach and its commitment to revise its terms and conditions and comply with consumer protection law”.