30 June 2020

Consumer protection, student expectations and quality

Today we publish more information for higher education institutions on consumer protection, student expectations and quality.

We thought this would be helpful in the context of preparations for academic year 2020/21. Of course, no one is quite sure yet what the next academic year will look like, but we understand that most, if not all, providers across the UK as a whole are seeking to achieve some form of blended learning – with some provision being delivered online, combined with some face-to-face learning.

Consumer law is an issue that has been concerning institutions, particularly given the short timescale in which provision had to be put online in 2019/20.

It is clear that institutions cannot take a blanket approach to delivery next year – therefore information will need to be tailored by institution, course, and potentially for different groups of students; for example, those who may struggle to access information.

The key thing is to ensure that students, and potential students, have access to as much information as possible, as soon as it is available. That means giving them information on what the first term might look like, even though decisions may not have been made yet for the remainder of the academic year. This will enable them to decide what is best for them: to study in 2020/21, or potentially to defer. Students’ unions and student representatives also need to have information on the evolving situation as soon as possible, so they can plan how they can support student voice and the student experience in the changing context.

Students also need to be clear that, should they commit to studying in 2020/21, they will be able to achieve the academic objectives of their chosen programme, even if it is delivered in a different way to previous years.

One thing we do know is that the situation is likely to evolve constantly, and the beginning of the academic year may look very different to the end. Institutions have done an excellent job in responding to the early challenges of the pandemic in 2019/20, and will need to adapt their practices on an ongoing basis as further information on public health requirements becomes clear.

Student expectations will also evolve as time goes on: providers will need to manage these expectations throughout the year, including through consulting with the student body before making any significant changes, providing students with regular information, and updates as soon as decisions are made that will impact their studies.

Dr Cliona O’Neill is Head of Student Experience at HEFCW