Schools Training

Universities should face more scrutiny over competition, says OFT

17 MAR 2014

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The OFT published today the outcome of its call for information on higher education in England, launched in October 2013 to see “how choice and competition were working” in the sector.

The report recommends that the Competition and Markets Authority – the OFT’s successor body which takes over on 1 April – undertakes a “compliance review” of the sector. The OFT warns that hidden charges for students and increases in fees for international students during their courses are among practices that “might breach” consumer protection regulations.

It also recommends that the CMA “inform the design of the regulatory regime”, saying the current regulatory framework is “overly complex, outmoded and unfit to support current and future policy ambitions” – such as a sector driven by student choice and open to alternative providers.

However, the OFT does not call for the CMA to undertake a “market study” – the type of thorough investigation of the sector called for by Which?, the consumer organisation.

The CMA could, though, still opt to undertake a market study after its own investigations.

Significantly, the OFT said it had “received no complaints or evidence” of fee setting, after the organisation examined the clustering of universities around the £9,000 maximum.

But the report adds that the CMA “considers allegations of anti-competitive behaviour that it receives seriously, and encourages anyone with specific evidence of this type of behaviour taking place to come forward”.

Sir Christopher Snowden, the Universities UK president, said: “We welcome the fact that the OFT, having considered the information, has found no evidence of collaboration on pricing and that they do not recommend any competition enforcement.”

 

Read full article: Times Higher Education