That is the argument of consumer group Which? in a new report, based on a survey of students that found “worsening perceptions of value for money”.
Which? calls for new legislation on the sector’s regulation and says the Quality Assurance Agency should be given powers to recommend that degree-awarding powers are removed from poorly-performing institutions.
Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, said: “We want to see better information for prospective students, improved complaints processes and a strong regulator that enforces high standards across the sector.”
Which? conducted four surveys of prospective students, undergraduates and graduates, in groups ranging from around 1,000 to around 4,500, for the report, titled ‘A degree of value: value for money from the student perspective’.
The report does say that the survey found 68 per cent of undergraduates paying higher fees and 81 per cent of graduates who paid lower fees under the previous system “thought that their university experience was good value for money”.
But Which? says that “a significant number reported views we think are concerning”, including three in ten undergraduates saying “that their experience was poor value” and 35 per cent of graduates saying “that they are unlikely to have attended university faced with higher fees”.
And only 49 per cent of students say the amount of work they were given was demanding, Which? finds, with only 45 per cent saying lectures are generally worth attending.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England has taken under the role of chief regulator and student champion under the new system, but Which? appears to suggest that role is not strong enough.
The report says: “The regulatory system, which was designed for a more homogenous sector, is no longer fit for purpose. With students now taking on tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt to complete their studies, there needs to be a strong regulator to protect students.”
The report’s recommendations include that “the government should release better comparable information on the academic offer, costs and financial support, support to enter employment and longer term employment outcomes, and complaints”.
It also says that “new legislation should be brought forward to enable the linking of HMRC with Student Loans Company data to provide anonymised information on longer-term employment outcomes to support student choice”.
Megan Dunn, National Union of Students vice-president (higher education), said: “This report highlights the damaging effects of the market principles that have been imposed on the higher education sector by politicians and the complacency of the university vice chancellors who cheered them on from the side lines.
“What the market champions failed to realise was that students, increasingly treated like supermarket customers, would look to exercise their consumer rights. This new report shows that universities are woefully ill-prepared for the reaction by those they have let down.”