Originally published in March 2022
March 2022 marks the seven-year anniversary since Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) laws were introduced to UK Higher Education (HE) providers. Some colleagues may recall a rather bumpy journey to ensuring compliance, which included simplifying course and module specifications and checking multiple sources of information (Truth and Reconciliation Project, 2018-2019). This also included the removal of changes for in-session students, along with various other obstacles that we faced in the collective effort to find our feet on the somewhat muddy ground of Competition Law.
For those with little or no knowledge of UK Competition Law – the Competition and Markets Authority is an independent non-ministerial department responsible for ensuring that consumers get a good deal when buying goods and services. The department also ensures that businesses operate within the law. In a HE setting, the purpose of CMA is to ensure clear information provision, fair terms and conditions and accessible complaints process.
As an HE provider, the University of Kent has a duty of care to provide prospective and current students with timely and transparent information. It’s no secret that students who choose to study at a university will
be subjected to a substantial bill, and for many, high fees can limit access and opportunity to study. Unexpected changes to their chosen course could hinder their chances of success and/or result in restricted opportunities for further study or employment.
Although reference to CMA is often met with feelings of consternation, it is important to recognise that CMA is not designed to deter colleagues from making changes to improve the content of our courses. On the contrary – CMA recognises that changes may be made to course content, design and delivery. It underlines the importance of weighing the risk of any proposed change vs benefit to current (or prospective) students, and in the event of any change, provides guidance as to available actions that can be considered ‘fair’ should any student or applicant seek redress or pursue legal action following implementation.
Over recent years, we have established practices to help strengthen and support compliance at Kent. These include risk assessments that allow us to weigh up the risks of any proposed changes, and step-by-step guidance for staff. A new CMA Training module is also in development and will be available to professional and academic staff – watch this space!
QACO staff periodically review procedures to improve institutional compliance. We regularly review compliance practices across the sector and ensure that any changes to external requirements are incorporated into our policies and procedures so that we remain CMA compliant. As a result, we have made enhancements to how we work, such as including CMA news and updates in every Quality Assurance newsletter, creating a designated mailbox (email@example.com) for CMA related queries, and standardising the risk assessment process. We are currently working on exciting new developments to further support academic and professional service colleagues with appropriate training and resources:
• Creation of a CMA Training e-module (to be released by July 2022).
• Updating CMA pages (to go live by June 2022).
• Designing Staff Intranet resources which offer step-by-step guidance and sharing of good practice (to be made available later this year).
These developments ensure that we share our knowledge and experience with colleagues and instil confidence in making informed decisions related to CMA.
We are committed to continuing our journey to compliance whilst learning and adapting where required. CMA is not just a box-ticking exercise. By adhering to three key principles (information provision, terms and
conditions, and complaint handling) we add value to our courses, enhance the student experience and strengthen the quality of our education offer.
If you would like to contribute to the QA Blog or get involved in this ongoing policy work, please get in touch with a member of the QA team via QACO@kent.ac.uk.