Thursday, 14 April 2011

Admission review and litigious students

Spent yesterday afternoon at the first meeting of the UCAS admissions review steering group. UCAS, (which used to be UCCA, as it was when I went to university), is 50 years old. What's interesting, is the basic processes have barely changed in those years, yes it's gone from paper to online, but if you look at an admissions handbook from the sixties the same terms are there. Conditional offer, insurance offers etc. And yet the world has changed, and is continuing to change. In the sixties most applicants were male, 18, doing A levels, and intending to do a 3 year full time course. Now we have a much more diverse population, in terms of age, gender, education, type of study, social class, everything. This review is going to have a really in-depth look at the process and the service offered by UCAS, with the aim of coming up with a system offering a better experience to students and HEIs. One area which is ripe for review is the number of transactions which take place, many of them not leading to a place, so they are valueless.

Yesterday was the first meeting, but I'm looking forward to getting involved in the review. Whatever happens, there will be IT and system implications which we'll have to deal with.

After the meeting I had to travel to Chester for the Annual Conference of AMHEC, the Association of Managers in Higher Education where I'd been invited to speak. Unfortunately I'd missed the first day because of the review, but got there for the evening. It's an interesting association because it is made up of managers from different disciplines, HR, Finance, Estates seeming to be the main ones, but it's open to all. It's also 50 years old, so well established. It grew out of smaller, specialist colleges, but I understand anyone can join.

First session this morning was delivered by Eversheds, and was on Delivering to Promise. It covered the legal issues of making promises to students, and then not being able to deliver on them.
In the new fees world, student expectations and how we manage them are important. Can we say "you'll enjoy the course" for example? What if they don't? What if we specify contact hours, and don't deliver? What if they don't get a degree?

The student/ institution relationship is contractual, and there are many interesting legal issues and pitfalls. The contract is formed early on in the relationship, when the student accepts an offer of a place. Students are consumers and they can use consumer law. So, what we say is important. The contract can be oral as well as written, so what an academic says to a potential student on an open day could potentially be seen as part of a contract.
A contract has to be fair and reasonable, and can exclude some sort of liability and included the ability to change things.

Things to consider:
Set our the student's obligations clearly
Review all marketing material, information could be on web sites, in a prospectus, in open day literature. Check the information is accurate and promises are deliverable.
Consider ancillary contracts, eg with accommodation.
Consider disclaimers to exclude certain things
Make sure all the documents are consistent.

Some thought provoking stuff, all in the context of students becoming more likely to complain as higher fees are introduced. Will be interesting to see if that happens.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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