The Student as Consumer?

23 May, 2017

Education is a complex space and depending on ones perspective it has many roles. It is also an area that often seems to be immune from any significant consequences of a compliance culture. Yes of course standards have to be met and there are many agencies nationally and internationally who ensure such compliance. But now other agencies outside of education are taking an interest.

A relatively recent court case in Australia has raised the role of Consumer protection legislation where a student enrols on a course. According to a report in The Age newspaper website from Melbourne,  where Victoria University was sued by a student for misrepresentation as well as a breach of contract over the grading and honours system.  The case was settled prior to going to hearing. 

The case was due to be heard in Melbourne's County Court in December 2016, but in November, Victoria University settled with Mr D'Souza for $75,000 plus costs. 

Penny Antoniou, whose company Antoniou Libreri and Associates represented Mr D'Souza, against the University said the case was more than a civil dispute.

It encompassed a lesser-explored area of litigation, the rights of students as a consumer group.

"Issue must be taken with universities misleading one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, our young people, who lack the life experience and financial resources to seek justice," Ms Antoniou said. 

She said while the case dealt with various issues, including the university's grading and honours system, the core issue involved representations made about Mr. D'Souza's course.

"Courses should be accurately represented in promotional material and by university representatives."

This follows a high profile case in the UK where a Graduate sues Oxford University for £1m over his failure to get a first. This was reported in The Guardian

Then, Which, the consumer watchdog in the UK, issues a report in 2016,  following claims in 2015 that three in four universities 'breach law on website information', that the Government must ensure that all universities comply with consumer law. This followed a report by the Competition and Markets Authority. The review was carried out to determine whether higher education (HE) providers are complying with consumer law in the information they give to students, the terms on which they deal with students, and the fairness of their complaints processes. It follows advice published by the CMA in March 2015 to help providers comply with their consumer law obligations.

Integrity of data is clearly on the agenda.