Universities clash with watchdog over website investigation

Institutions say allegations that they do not comply with consumer protection legislation are ‘completely false’

October 23, 2015
Man hitting keyboard with fist

Consumer watchdog Which? has defended its investigation into the information provided by universities on their websites after three institutions took issue with being singled out in the findings.

In a report published on 23 October, Which? said that three-quarters of the 50 UK universities it had sampled had failed to make important course information covering issues such as fees, assessment and contact hours accessible online.

The watchdog claimed that this failure could contravene consumer protection legislation and identified three institutions as, in its view, having failed to provide 30 per cent of the information required.

These were Canterbury Christ Church University, Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) and the University of Huddersfield.

But Huddersfield issued a statement saying that it took “great exception” to the allegation, and said it had instructed lawyers to act on its behalf over the matter.

“As regards the University of Huddersfield, the allegation that it is not compliant with a number of the CMA guidelines is completely false,” a university spokeswoman said. “The university is confident that it is fully compliant with consumer protection legislation, in line with the CMA’s advice. We strongly refute the allegations made.”

GCU said that it had taken “appropriate professional advice” on the issue.

“GCU has concluded that Which? has gone far beyond the remit of a consumer affairs organisation by making stark, unsupported allegations of unlawfulness on the part of universities, including GCU,” a spokeswoman said. “The allegation that GCU is consistently adopting unlawful practice is unsupported and defamatory.”

And a Canterbury Christ Church spokeswoman said it shared other universities’ concerns around "unsupported allegations" in the report, "in particular that we are 'adopting consistently unlawful practice'. In line with other institutions, we refute this allegation and are considering our legal position."

She added that the institution had already “taken immediate action to address many of the priority issues raised” in the report.

The Which? study was limited to websites for 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.

The Which? study said 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.

A spokeswoman for the watchdog defended the investigation.

“While it’s disappointing to see the reaction from a small minority of universities, we stand by our findings,” she said. “Which? will continue to be the consumer champion, highlighting good practice and challenging bad.”

chris.havergal@tesglobal.com

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