The thing about “low value courses” is that students have paid to be on them

So here’s a thought re the Office for Students (OfS) “low quality courses” investigations announcement.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

Fee paying students are consumers as per the Consumer Rights Act 2015. I know folks don’t like the framing, but we are where we are.

Now imagine that a student finds themselves enrolled on a course whose outcomes fall below OfS’ new minimums (the B3 bear).

Generally the duty to carry out the service with “reasonable care and skill” is about how the service is carried out, not its outcomes.

So a student might be able to argue that the advertising is misleading – and increasingly I expect that if someone (CMA or OfS) re-wrote the 2015 consumer rights guidance for HE, it would define some of those outcomes stats as “material” (to decision making) information that has to be supplied.

The big question, by the way, with the forthcoming Michelle Donelan edict on “including the outcomes on ads” thing is a) what is an advert and b) which outcomes – subject or provider? It’s the same debate as subject TEF. If you’re advertising geography, and its outcomes are good but the uni aggregate ones are worse, do you have to show the uni score, the subject score or the OfS score? and all vice versas.

But I digress. The OfS investigations aren’t actually about B3 – they’re about the other quality conditions, the ones about the provision itself rather than its outcomes. And here’s the question.

If OfS finds your business school hasn’t been delivering against what are now minimum quality thresholds, SURELY a student will then be able to get redress?

It would be like an episode of Watchdog telling you your kettle was faulty.

Surely students will be able to argue that the university has failed in its “deliver with reasonable skill and care” duty? And then, they’ll be entitled to the CRA15 remedies – price reductions, repeat performances, and so on.

Imagine the complaint to the OIA – my programme was not delivered to the minimum standard OfS requires, according to a formal ruling from OfS. How would OIA be able to do anything other than uphold that complaint?

4 responses to “The thing about “low value courses” is that students have paid to be on them

  1. This surely isn’t such a unique, unfathomable situation – what happens if you’re paying for a care home that gets a damning report from the CQC, or a private school that gets a terrible ISI report?

  2. Presumably the institution would be able to argue that the student had got something from the course itself. It might also depend upon which outcome the provider failed on. If it is student progression to employment and not much else, then it would be hard to argue that this really the provider’s fault (despite the OfS conditions). The OIA’s line to this point has effectively been ‘we can’t know what you would have earned had things been different as we aren’t in the business of speculation’.

    A more interesting and, potentially, invidious scenario is where a provider is in hot water for retention due to student failure. That might be judged to be due to student intake, teaching quality or to, perversely them actually maintaining standards and avoiding grade inflation by passing students when they don’t warrant it. However, OfS regulation does provide a perverse incentive to pass poor quality work (thereby improving retention numbers), just as long as you don’t go above your ‘historic’ ‘good degree’ figures. If you play the numbers game well, they will never look at you, presumably. Or perhaps I am being too cynical?

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