Three-quarters of universities ‘fail to put vital course information online’

Consumer watchdog Which? ‘disappointed’ after surveying 50 institutions’ websites

October 23, 2015
Jigsaw with missing pieces

Three-quarters of UK universities are failing to provide students with important course information on their websites, according to a survey conducted by Which?

The consumer watchdog visited the websites of 50 higher education providers and found that 38 did not provide at least one piece of information which the Competition and Markets Authority said should be “easily accessible” in order to comply with consumer protection legislation. This includes data on issues such as fees, assessment, and contact hours, although the CMA does not specify that the website must be the place of publication.

The watchdog found that 64 per cent of providers sampled had failed to provide updated information about 2016-17 tuition fees on their websites, and that four out of five did not provide clarity on extra fees students may have to pay to complete their course.

Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, said students “deserve to know at least the basics of what they can expect from a course before signing up”.

“It’s encouraging to see some providers demonstrating good practice, but we now need all universities to make better information easily available and accessible for prospective students,” he said.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said consumer protection law was a “developing area” for universities.

“It is important that prospective students are given clear and relevant information which enables them to make informed choices about courses,” she said. “The university sector will continue to work with the CMA to ensure that the sector is complying with its statutory requirements relating to consumer protection law.”

Some sector figures have criticised the Which? study, highlighting that the survey was limited to a single course, psychology, and was conducted last month, before many students submit their applications.

Of the sample, 22 universities had previously been criticised by Which?, and the other 28 were selected at random.

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ thinktank, said that a sample of websites was “hardly the basis on which to suggest that universities are not complying with their duties”.

“Prospective students are provided with information on open days and by course tutors but they also research websites such as Unistats and seek advice from their schools and colleges,” Ms Tatlow said.

“Judging the performance of universities on such a partial basis is misleading and unlikely to help students understand the admissions process or make the right choice of university and course.”

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