The CMA said terms in an offer that give HE providers “wide discretion” to withdraw were “likely to be unfair under unfair terms legislation.”
“Rights and duties under a contract cannot be considered fairly and evenly balanced unless both parties are equally bound by their obligations under the contract and the general law.”
It added that terms designed to limit a HE provider’s liability if it withdraws an accepted offer were “inappropriate and potentially unfair,” citing the inconvenience and costs that a student could be left with.
Rami Labib, HE and commercial law expert at Pinsent Masons, said the CMA’s statement meant HE providers would have to be “careful” in future.
“Previous recruitment cycles have seen certain providers in the sector introducing oversubscription conditions that permitted them to withdraw places where the number of students meeting offer conditions exceeded the number of places available,” he said.
“This has prompted the CMA to issue this guidance which serves as a reminder to the sector that students must be treated fairly and afforded appropriate recourse in the event of provider default.
“Whilst the guidance itself introduces nothing new by way of legal concept, in the context of admissions, it emphasises that providers will have to be careful going forward not to “oversubscribe” and rely on unduly broad rights to withdraw offers as a “get out of jail free card,” Labib added.
“In short, the regulatory message is that if providers are to make offers, and the conditions of those offers are met, they should be prepared to honour them.”