Consumer Rights for Undergraduate Students

It's so easy to get caught up in the prospect of leaving home, finding your independence and making new friends that many applicants and current undergrads forget how much of a financial undertaking attending university really is.

  • With fees for UK/EU students at £9,000 a year and showing no signs of letting up any time soon it's well worth becoming familiar with your consumer rights as an undergraduate. 
  • Knowing your rights under consumer law will help you get the information you need when choosing a course and university, and help to protect you if things go wrong when you're there.

Essential advice on consumer rights from the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA).

What should you check when choosing a university and course?

Universities must give you the information you need to make your decision. This includes:

  • The course’s content, structure and length, the location of study and the award given on successfully completing the course.
  • Total cost of the course, including tuition fees and any necessary additional costs such as field trips, lab equipment or studio/bench fees.
  • The university’s terms and conditions, including rules and regulations and policies relating to student conduct. These must be accessible and clear. 

Before, or at the latest when you get an offer, universities must tell you about any changes to the information since you applied, and give you ‘pre-contract information’. The pre-contract information should cover:

  • Course information and costs, arrangements for making payments to the university and their complaints-handling process.
  • Any right you have to cancel should you change your mind. 

What should you expect when you get to university?

Once you start, the university’s terms and conditions apply. These must:

  • Strike a fair balance between the rights and obligations of the university and the student.
  • Not give the university wide discretion to change a course’s cost or content.

What can you do if things go wrong?

You can complain to your university. Their complaints process must:

  • Be fair, transparent and easily accessible to students.
  • Set out the process to make a complaint, how it will be dealt with and how you can escalate your concerns.
  • Be clear about who deals with complaints, especially if courses are provided jointly with another institution.

What can you do if you're still not happy?

If you are not happy with how your university handles a complaint, you may be able to refer it to an independent complaint scheme such as the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for England and Wales, or the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

The Complete University Guide provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from the Competition and Markets Authority, an independent non-ministerial government department responsible for enforcing consumer protection legislation.