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Quick guide: student rights on your university course

Starting your degree and becoming a fully-fledged student brings with it both rights and responsibilities. Here's an introduction to what you need to know and how to avoid future problems…

When you accept a university course as your firm option in Ucas, you've taken the first step to becoming part of that institution meaning, as long as you get the grades on results day you'll be studying under the overarching rules and terms of that university (or college) provider.

Your rights as a student

When you're researching courses, you should expect to see clear and accurate information about courses published on university websites and prospectuses, including course information and the terms and conditions under which the university operates.

Accepting an offer from a university essentially means you're signing up to those terms so i
f you haven't seen them, ask for the ts and cs before enrolling. Each uni and college will differ, but it's reasonable to expect in return that:
  • You get what you're paying for: when signing up for a (up to £9,000 per year) course, you should receive the degree you were expecting without any unexpected changes in costs. That includes changes to course fees or the addition of compulsory 'extras' that you weren't told about upfront, such as field work costs.
  • The course you're on is what you signed up for: the course structure, content, teaching and qualification award shouldn't significantly change from the course you originally applied to without good grounds.
  • There's the ability to complain: if you're not happy, your university should provide you with access to a standard complaints procedure, with escalation where necessary to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA). If you are studying at a private provider you may not have access to the OIA or, if you are studying at a Further Education college (with your course validated by another provider), you may have more limited access. Check in advance that your university falls under the OIA's remit and how. If you are studying at a Scottish university you can take your complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

When you receive your offer (at the latest), universities must provide you with 'pre-contract' information such as your right to cancel if you change your mind, together with up-to-date course information and costs. They must also tell you about any changes to the course or terms since you originally applied.

The Competition and Markets Authority has issued advice for students on their rights under consumer law before and during your time at university
 download a PDF summary here.

Your responsibilities

As a university student, you've also got responsibilities in return, such as regularly attending scheduled teaching, submitting work on time and doing the required reading, paying your fees, taking and passing exams, or not exceeding a certain number of hours in a part-time job.

In extreme cases, you could be excluded from your university if you don't meet its minimum expectations.

Can your course change?

University courses routinely change from year to year for all sorts of reasons. Changes are usually minor and the reasons straightforward - for example, changes in staff, a refresh of modules or course content, perhaps a new and exciting area of study being introduced.

But sometimes changes can be significant, leading to a detrimental impact on your overall experience. If this is the case, it may constitute a breach of your rights (under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations or the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations), and you may have grounds to complain to your university.

In our recent research, one in 10 (12%) university students reported an advertised module not being available anymore, 11% reported that their course content had substantially changed and one in 20 told us that the timing of some of their teaching had significantly altered.

It's a good idea to ask your uni or college under what circumstances they will change an aspect of a course, and what the process is for informing you about this.
 

Things to look out for when choosing courses

While some changes to your course can't be predicted, it's always worth researching upfront certain aspects of a course before applying to avoid unnecessary surprises. Our advice is to check the course smallprint - here are some things to double check in the terms and conditions or speak to your university about:
 
  • Location: many universities have multiple campuses so check where teaching for your course will be based and that it suits where you’re planning to live. If there’s a significant change in course location, you could have a case for complaint.
  • Timetable: you won’t find out when your lectures will be until you get to uni and start to select your preferred modules – but if you're a part-time student (or on a course with a lot of part-time students) you might find that the hours are designed to fit around students with work and families to juggle – so evenings and weekend lectures are a possibility.
  • Modules: course content can change from year-to-year so don't be surprised if the academic programme isn't exactly the same as what the prospectus said. But if it’s substantially changed, you do have the right to complain to your university.
  • Well-known lecturers: if part of the appeal of a course is a well-known academic or famous face being part of that university, check whether that person will actually be teaching any of the modules you're interested in. They may not have a teaching timetable at all and, even if they do, it may not be on an undergrad course.
  • Course accreditation: studying a course that's been accredited by a relevant body could give you a headstart when it comes to getting a job in your chosen industry, especially if there is a professional qualification in the field you plan to work in, so check before you apply. You can search for accredited courses using our course search tool.
  • Extra costs: your tuition fees won’t cover all the costs of your course, and you’ll need to factor extras such as books and course-specific equipment (from art materials to medical kit, depending on your course) into your budget. In particular, find out what add-ons are compulsory rather than opt-in, along with an estimate of how much you’ll need to put aside.  
     

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