All United Kingdom universities and most further education colleges are to face sanctions for the first time if they breach guidelines for overseas student recruitment practices and the delivery of educational services to other countries.
A revised code of practice drawn up by the British Council and adopted this week by the Educational Counselling Service, which represents most universities and colleges, will act as a contract between individual institutions and students.
It requires institutions to meet students' expectations about clear and consistent information on both the course to which they have been recruited and the academic environment in which they will pursue it.
And the code, in its new revised form, tightens up on recruiting practices overseas by insisting on clear and consistent applications and admissions procedures covering course requirements, tuition charges and arrangements for payment.
It is backed by a complaints procedure under which any claims of suspect recruiting practices would be investigated and considered by the ECS board which would draw any findings to the attention of the vice chancellor or principal of the university or college involved.
Roger Bowers, assistant director general of the British Council, said: "We expect that drawing the matter to the attention of the chief executive of the institution will be sufficient, but as a last resort we could recommend suspension."
Suspension or expulsion would cut off the institution from information on educational opportunities overseas provided by ECS; prevent it from influencing the development of the service; and exclude it from the exhibitions or recruiting fairs organised by ECS overseas.
But the new code was dismissed by John Belcher, pro-rector of the University of Westminster and critic of some of the more aggressive overseas marketing practices. "Originally the code had more teeth. Increasingly it has become a marketing instrument. Its usefulness as a means of regulating the quality of a student's stay has been weakened," he said.