Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) Guidance

In May 2023 the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published updated compliance advice to Higher Education providers on their responsibilities relating to applicants, students and consumer protection laws (see: CMA Consumer law advice for higher education providers).

It requires Universities to make sure that the course information provided to prospective and existing students is clear, accurate and up to date, and that we consider the impact of any late course or module changes to the 'material information' that has already been provided to current or prospective students who have accepted an offer.

Information and Guidance

‘Material information’ consists of the following information about courses and their costs:

1. Course information, including:

(i) course title;

(ii) entry requirements (academic and non-academic, plus standard offer criteria);

(iii) core modules and an indication of likely optional modules;

(iv) the composition of the course, how it will be delivered, and balance between the elements, e.g:

  • the number and type of contact hours that students can expect (e.g. lectures, seminars, work placements, feedback on assignments);
  • whether these will be in person, online or a mix of blended learning;
  • the expected workload of students (e.g. the expected self-study time)
  • the general level of experience or status of the staff involved in delivering the different elements of the course;

(v) the overall method(s) and balance of assessment for the course (e.g. exams, coursework, practical assessments, etc);

(vi) the award to be received on successful completion;

(vii)       location of study, including any work placements where known;

(viii)     length of the course;

(ix) whether the course is regulated and by whom (OfS in England);

(x) whether the course is accredited by a professional, statutory or regulatory body (PSRB), and by whom;

(xi) any particular terms that students may find surprising (e.g. where the awarding body is different to the HE provider delivering the course, or variation terms regarding course content, delivery or withdrawal).

2. Total course costs, including:

(i)      tuition fees – including whether fees in future years will increase and by how much;

(ii)    any extra costs students are likely to incur (e.g. for field trips, equipment, materials, bench fees, studio hire), and how much these extra costs are or are likely to be.

This information constitutes ‘pre-contract information’ to potential applicants, and contractual information to anyone who has been made an offer and existing students.

Periodic Review and Validation

All undergraduate and postgraduate taught programmes (including Foundation Degrees, Bachelor’s Degrees, Integrated Master’s Degrees and Master’s Degrees) delivered by the University and it’s partners are reviewed as part of the University's Academic Quality Assurance processes, through periodic review or revalidation, and all new programmes or substantial revisions to existing programmes are validated. It is through these processes that the ‘material information’ for programmes are approved, contained within Programme Specifications and Course Fact Sheets.

All programmes undergoing validation, re-validation or periodic review have to be ratified by the Academic Board before they can be delivered, and they are required to be approved (prior to being advertised) by a specified date ahead of the start date (typically 9 months for undergraduate programmes and 6 months for postgraduate and partner-delivered programmes).  Approval deadlines linked to periodic review and validation activity are given here:

Approval Deadlines

The Centre for Academic Quality Assurance (CAQA) and Academic Services are responsible for the monitoring and organisation of the periodic review and validation processes.

To ensure CMA regulations are met for programmes undergoing periodic review, revalidation or validation:

  • Academic Services co-ordinate all periodic review, revalidation and validation events.
  • Academic Schools must ensure that adequate development time is given to programme teams working on periodic review or validation documentation, that the agreed submission deadlines for paperwork are met and that any standard requirements or conditions are met before the relevant deadline.
  • Schools must work closely with CAQA and Academic Services from the point of ADC approval, throughout the development, at the event and post-event to ensure that ratification can be sought.
  • Academic Services will liaise with the Schools to amend/ create any course structures  to support any new or substantial revisions to programmes, new programme or award titles, modes of study, entry points.
  • Marketing and Communications will work with the School to develop new or amended UH webpages.  Pages will include a statement confirming that a programme is undergoing periodic review or validation until the final AQ3/4 ratification form is sent from Academic Services to Marketing and Communications.  Once received, the caveat statement can be removed.
  • Schools must ensure that all new or revised Definitive Module Documents (DMDs) are approved by the relevant conditions meeting.

Note: Any required extension to deadlines must be discussed and approved by the Director of Academic Quality Assurance.

Approving changes to programmes outside the periodic review process

Any changes to an existing programme must be carefully considered by the School, to include the provision that applicants are consulted and the consent of existing students is sought.

  • Where the ‘material information’ changes, all applicants must be informed of the changes through a consultation process at the earliest opportunity.
  • The ‘material information’ given to students at the application and offer stage is legally binding post-offer and upon enrolment. For any changes to be effective a student’s express agreement must be obtained (the consumer Rights Act states that “any change to that information, before or after the consumer enters the contract, is ineffective unless the consumer gives their express consent to the change”). For this reason, significant changes to programmes are phased in rather than applied to students already enrolled.

Once a change to a module or programme has been approved, then subsequently the DMD, Programme Specification and Course Fact Sheet (as appropriate) should be updated.  The revised Programme Specification and Course Fact Sheet (if appropriate) should be submitted to the School’s designated Academic Services Officer (Academic Quality Assurance).

CMA covers many other aspects of communications and processes linked to programmes, how we market them and how we communicate with applicants and students about any proposed changes which are detailed in the guidance document.  For further advice, please contact  Academic Services.

NB. CMA regulations do not apply to Degree Apprenticeships or any other undergraduate or postgraduate programmes which are considered to be ‘closed courses’ at the University.

Suspension and Withdrawal of programmes

To ensure CMA regulations for withdrawal and suspensions to existing programmes:

  • Any completed suspension or withdrawal forms (form ADC7/ ADC5) must be approved 9 months ahead of the programme start date (December for a programme starting in September).

Further information on the process for suspending and withdrawing programmes can be found here:

Suspension and Withdrawals of programmes