Academic Division

 

Competition and Markets Authority information and guidance for staff at the University of Kent

All higher education institutions are required to abide by the regulations of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The CMA provides specific guidance for undergraduate courses (or programmes as they used to be called) and the University of Kent uses these principles to guide all published information about undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

These pages provide detailed information about what you need to do in managing information so that the University complies with the CMA regulations.

What is the CMA Guidance?

In March 2015 the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) provided guidance to Higher Education Institutions that provide undergraduate programmes about their obligations to students in terms of consumer regulations, the provision of up-to-date, accurate programme information, including full costs of programmes, and not just the tuition fee. In order to ensure all of our information is robust and we are fully compliant with consumer protection law, the University is applying the CMA guidance to postgraduate programmes also.

Why is it important?

The guidance requires the University to ensure that it remains within the law. If we do not meet our obligations, we may be in breach of consumer law and risk enforcement action. In some circumstances, students may also have the right to take legal action against the University or seek redress, such as full fee repayment.

How does consumer law apply to the information we provide?

All types of information given to current students and applicants falls within consumer law. This includes information given at the pre-admission/enquiry stage and throughout the admissions process in both print/digital communications (subject leaflets, emails, letters, websites) and oral communications (telephone conversations, Open/Applicant/At Kent Days). We are required to give prospective students the information they need to make an informed decision before they apply.

What does the CMA guidance cover?

The guidance relates to three specific areas of practice where the CMA considers that institutions may need to take action, or modify existing practice in order to comply with consumer protection law.

The University must:

  • articulate compulsory modules on all its course pages
  • provide applicants and students with clear, accurate and timely information to enable them to make an informed decision about what and where to study
  • ensure our terms and conditions are fair. For example, we cannot make surprising changes to course content, or costs
  • ensure that our complaints handing processes are accessible, clear and fair

What does this mean in practical terms?

The University has to ensure that the required ‘material’ information accurately reflects what students will study and how they will be assessed and that the information is easily available to applicants in a timely manner at the pre-contractual stage (before their offer is made), and the post-contractual stage (once their offer is made).

The pre-contractual stage includes the promotional and recruitment period and, for undergraduate students, effectively starts 18 months prior to enrolment when the UCAS admissions cycle begins.

The post-contractual stage starts from the point at which the offer is made and accepted, which could be from 1 October in the year preceding the student enrolling the following September, therefore up to almost 12 months prior to enrolment.



The full guidance is available from the UK Government here: CMA Guidance for Higher Education Providers

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All staff involved in drafting and publishing course and module information have a responsibility for ensuring accuracy and communicating changes

The following principles apply to all published information processes:
  • Single sources of information will be used wherever possible. If we need to share information with our prospective or current students we refer to the approved source information wherever possible. We avoid re-writing or re-stating already published information. We avoid creating information sources that fall out of date without being managed.
  • We all take responsibility for checking the information we provide as part of generating published information about courses, modules and studying at Kent. Each person involved in the process has responsibility for checking that the information they provide is consistent with the approved specifications.
  • We clearly identify and communicate changes. When changes are made to courses, modules and other core aspects of studying at Kent, we check whether they are material changes that should be evaluated by the Quality Assurance procedures and whether the changes should be communicated to prospective or current students.

Who is responsible for managing the accuracy of published information?

To ensure that our institutional obligations are met and the University is CMA compliant, the responsibility must be shared between academic school, the Office of the Academic Registrar and professional service departments:
  • Pre-contractual stage (applicants): Enrolment Management Services
  • Post-contractual stage (students): Academic Schools
  • Regulatory changes: Office of the Academic Registrar

Information maintenance and publishing overview

The following table provides an overview of the main sources of information pertinent to CMA guidance, the systems that store the information and who is responsible for drafting, checking and publishing the information.

Type of information

Main information system / source

Who is responsible for drafting and checking the information

Who is responsible for publishing

Programme and Module Specifications

Faculty websites

Academic Schools

Faculties Support Office

Prospectus (Courses, Subject leaflets)

Programmes Plant

Academic School administration

EMS Publishing Team

Modules Catalogue

Module Catalogue in KentVision

Academic School administration

Academic School administration

Programme and Module Structure and Code Data

Student Data System + KentVision

Central Student Administration Office

Central Student Administration Office

Central marketing emails, letters and digital content

KentVision (+ other satellite systems)

Enrolment Management Services

Enrolment Management Services

Central open and visit days verbal information

Briefings to staff and ambassadors

Enrolment Management Services

Enrolment Management Services

Course fees, terms and conditions

Website

Enrolment Management Services (with input from other professional service departments)

Enrolment Management Services

In course information

Student Data System, moodle

Academic Schools

Academic Schools

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Governing CMA compliance

Information management is part of the routine work of Academic Schools and the central teams that publish guidance about courses and modules.

Oversight of information management currently resides with the Office of the Academic Registrar.

CMA related issues that are not readily resolved through routine operations should be escalated to the Academic Registrar through usual management routes or via Recruitment and Education committees as appropriate.

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Best practice

The Chemistry BA Hons course can be used an example of best practice for course presentation:
  • Compulsory modules are clearly identified
  • Teaching and Assessment information is clear and upfront
Best practice includes:
  • Course/programme and modules specifications up to date and published when the course is advertised
  • Any material changes to the course or compulsory modules communicated to applicants and students that are affected as soon as the new information is published

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Information that is required by CMA guidance ('Material Information')

The University must provide prospective students with important information (known as ‘material information’), for example about its courses (programmes) and their costs, at each stage of our dealings with them, including at the research and application, offer and enrolment stages.

Course attribute

(Programme of Study)

Example of change

Programme Approval required? ¹

Communication with applicants required? ²

Course title

BA Arts becomes BA Creative Arts

Yes

Yes

Entry requirements

AAB becomes ABB

Yes

Yes

Compulsory modules

Addition or removal of one or more compulsory modules

Yes

Yes

Indication of likely optional modules

Multiple optional modules are changed

Yes, if the modules are listed in the specification

Yes, where these modules are generally provided each year

Composition of the course and how it will be delivered

A significant change to the modules over more than one stage

Yes

Yes

Contact hours (for example, the number and duration of lectures and seminars)

Adjustment of the contact hours at the module level aggregated at the stage level

No

Yes, if >5%

Expected workload (e.g. expected self-study time)

This should not change as it is defined by the credit framework

No

 

Details about the general level of experience or status of staff involved

External temporary teaching required due to absence or staff changes

No

Yes

Overall methods of assessment (for example, a combination of exams, coursework or practical assessments)

Overall methods of assessment (for example, a combination of exams, coursework or practical assessments) A substantial change of assessment mode at module or course (programme) level – e.g. A module is changed from 100% exam to 50% coursework and 50% exam; or Minor changes to the assessment for a number of modules since the point of offer to any entry cohort

Yes if specific methods of assessment are added to or removed from the course

Yes

The award to be received on successful completion

Changed from BA to BSc

Yes

Yes

Location of study, including the likely or possible location of any work placements (where known)

Some or all of the location of study is changed

Yes

Yes

Length of course

Additional teaching is added outside of the teaching term; the course length is changed

Yes

Yes

Whether the course and provider are regulated and by whom

University of Kent is regulated by the Office for Students (or inspected by OFSTED if an apprenticeship) – this should not change

No

 

Whether the course is accredited and by whom

Accreditation added or removed

Yes

Yes

Tuition fees, including whether they will increase and by how much

Tuition fees adjusted by more than the stated year on year indexed change

No

Yes

Other extra costs which students are likely to incur

Additional course costs (e.g. expected field trip)

No

Yes, if the change is >£50 per year of study

When and how tuition fees and extra costs are payable and when the student will become liable for payment

Change to when fees or costs have to be paid

(eg a new field trip must be paid up-front by a deadline).

No

Yes

Whether accommodation is offered, and if so, whether it is on or off campus and its ownership

Change to the accommodation offer

No

Yes

Availability of funding and support

New or retired scholarship or bursary

No

Yes

The University’s important rules and regulations that apply to the course

Change to or deviation from the Credit Framework conventions on reassessment, progression and classification

No

Yes

¹ Substantial changes to programmes and modules that require approval are defined in Annexes B and C of the Code of Practice for Taught Programmes of Study

² Communication with course applicants is required where a change is made to the material information provided.

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What changes must be communicated to applicants and students?

Material change is the term used by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for a change to the important information (‘the material information’) provided by Kent about a course and the University that might affect an applicant’s choice when making an informed decision about what and where to study. Guidance is provided under the ‘Required Information’ tab about what this information is and how to proceed should a material change be required.

While it is important that students receive what they expected after deciding which course to study, this does not rule out all change to the course offer, however. CMA legislation allows the University to make adjustments, for example, that may be necessary to reflect changes to the theory in an area of research or practices around the subject or its delivery. Material changes are more likely to be considered fair under CMA legislation if they are restricted to allowing minor adjustments that are unlikely to negatively impact students, are driven by developments in the field of study or its delivery, or are changes required by necessity (e.g. due to accreditation requirements).

Applicants need to be notified in advance of the proposed changes and the reasons why they are necessary. Student views on post-registration changes to curricula or its delivery or assessment must be gained in advance through consultation via the Staff-Student Liaison (‘Student Voice’) Committee or through other meetings convened specifically for this purpose. The implementation of such changes are likely to be considered fair where the representative student body for the affected course or courses understands the rationale for the change in question and is supportive of it going forward. Evidence of this consultation will be required where course or module approval of the changes is necessary.

There is some overlap between a material change and any changes, whether substantial or minor in QA terms, that require a course or module to be reassessed through the QA approval procedures. See the table under the ‘Required Information’ tab for guidance

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What if an applicant or student is unhappy about the changes made to their course?

Complaints about published information should be handled as follows:
  • Pre-contractual (applicants) – Director of Enrolment Management Services
  • Post-contractual (students) – through the student complaint process as defined by Quality Assurance
In both cases the sources of the published information will be investigated to determine if and when an information discrepancy occurred, and how best to achieve a satisfactory resolution.

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Publishing comparative information such as league tables

There are specific rules about publishing comparative information such as league table rankings.

Guidance from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) states that universities need to provide ‘clear, accurate and timely information’ to help prospective students make decisions on what and where to study. The statistics we use in our materials have to be the most recent available, 100% accurate and taken from reliable and respected sources. It is recommended that schools avoid using other surveys, except where they cover a particular need (eg the National Council for the Training of Journalists is a well-respected specialist source.)

Kent statistics draw upon the following sources which are respected and have credibility with our audience:
  • National Student Survey
  • The Complete University Guide
  • The Guardian University Guide
  • The Times Good University Guide
  • DLHE (Destination of Leavers from Higher Education)
  • Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Publishing league table information

There has been consistent messaging from both the Office for Students (OfS), CMA and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) warning against the production of in-house rankings based on league table data, especially when universities do not have access to the complete underlying datasets. Therefore, the University and its academic schools must follow the correct procedure as set out by Enrolment Management Services guidance when using league table statistics in their marketing materials.

What you cannot do

Re-order the information by a specific category and count down to create a rank. Use a ranking that is 30 or above.

Further information

The Publishing Office produce an annual ‘Good news’ document which provides approved top-level league table messages for each school. This is published under the staff resources section of the EMS website > Externally published information > Advertising Standards Authority - Universities: comparative claims

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Academic Division - © University of Kent

The Registry, The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ, T: +44(0)1227 823671

Last Updated: 18/06/2019