Last week the Office of Fair Trading (“the OFT”) published its report following an investigation into universities’ terms and conditions. The OFT considered whether applying academic sanctions for non-tuition fee debt breached consumer protection law. The OFT found that around 75% of universities were applying sanctions that prevented students graduating, enrolling on their course or accessing university facilities where they had outstanding debts. Like no doubt many of our student readers, I often secretly hoped to be denied access to university facilities (the library), but there is a serious point here for universities. If a term of a contract is unfair then it is not enforceable and could be the subject of challenge. The OFT has found that a blanket approach to academic sanctions in this context, regardless of the circumstances, could be an unfair term, so has written to 170 universities and higher education institutions asking them to review their rules and practices. In light of the OFT’s findings universities should consider revising policies to make them easier to follow, or look at alternative approaches to debt collection where appropriate.
On March 3, 2014