And they are looking for a lot of information.
Back in October 2013 the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) issued a call for information on the undergraduate part of the higher education sector in England.
This follows the earlier look (outcome awaited) at terms and conditions in relation to student debts and universities’ practices in relation to withholding conferment of degrees. So what is it they want to know? Quite a lot it seems:
Universities play a crucial role in the UK economy. They contribute directly to economic growth, employment and local economic activity, delivering skilled workers into the wider economy, and contributing to export earnings. In many respects, UK universities are world leaders in research and teaching.
In launching this project, the OFT wants to understand whether universities are able to compete effectively and respond to students’ increased expectations, and whether students are able to make well-informed choices, which would help drive competition.
The OFT is particularly interested in receiving information about how universities compete, the impact regulation has on universities, and the student experience of the current system.
We will be engaging with higher education providers, students, employers, government and regulatory organisations and others with an interest in the higher education sector over the next 10 weeks by issuing information requests, arranging roundtable discussions and holding bilateral meetings. We will also be inviting comments from any other interested parties.
Once information has been gathered and submissions have been received, we will analyse the evidence we have collected in order to determine whether there is any evidence of competition or consumer problems and whether any further action is warranted.
The focus on competition for undergraduate recruitment is an interesting one given the fee cap. But it will also be fascinating to see how they address the continuing growth in the regulatory burden on universities in this context. And we can only speculate what further action they may wish to take in the light of the findings…
More information on the call for information is in the OFT launch document.