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Higher Education: Private Sector

Question for Department for Education

UIN 68199, tabled on 2 November 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he has made an assessment of the accuracy of statistics on (a) employment and (b) further education used by private higher education providers when advertising their courses to self-funded students.

Answered on

8 November 2021

The government is clear that we expect providers to ensure they are fully complying with their consumer law obligations, including ensuring any advertisement of courses is accurate and transparent.

Where a private higher education (HE) provider chooses to register with the Office for Students (OfS), the regulator plays an important role in ensuring students are better able to exercise their consumer rights. It is an OfS registration condition that providers have due regard to relevant guidance about how to comply with consumer protection law. It is a further condition that all registered providers co-operate with the requirements of the student complaints scheme run by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, and that they make students aware of their ability to use the scheme.

In addition, the OfS aims to ensure that all students can access, succeed in, and progress from higher education by ensuring students have access to relevant information to help them make choices that are right for them, and to also ensure students will receive a baseline level of quality. Statistics about student outcomes at OfS regulated providers are included in ‘Discover Uni’, which is owned and operated by the UK higher education funding and regulatory bodies and is an official, reliable source of information to guide student choices.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published advice on consumer law for all HE providers (including those not on the OfS register), setting out its view on how the law operates to help students understand their rights and help providers treat their students fairly. This is available via the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-consumer-law-advice-for-providers. The CMA has been clear that there are obligations under the law and providers must ensure they are meeting them.

The Advertising Standards Authority is the UK’s independent self-regulator of advertising across all media. Its work includes acting on complaints and proactively checking the media to take action against misleading, harmful or offensive advertisements that contravene its Advertising Codes. The Advertising Codes cover advertising and marketing communications, which are likely to include HE providers’ course information on websites, leaflets and posters directed at prospective students.