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National Audit Office criticises universities for “mis-selling” courses

The UK’s public spending watchdog has criticised universities for essentially mis-selling courses to students, saying they would be accused of such if they were regulated like financial services.

A new report by the National Audit Office (NAO) found only 32 per cent of students in higher education think their course offers value for money, down from 50 per cent in 2012.

The NAO added that there is limited price competition between universities.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “We are deliberately thinking of higher education as a market, and as a market, it has a number of points of failure.”

Morse said students were taking out loans without effective help and advice, and universities are under very little pressure to provide best value.

“If this was a regulated financial market we would be raising the question of mis-selling. The department is taking action to address some of these issues, but there is a lot that remains to be done,” Morse said.

The average student debt for a three-year course is £50,000 on graduation, and the NAO stressed that not all courses provide graduates with better earnings than non-graduates.

The report said: “The NAO finds that the [Department for Education] needs a more comprehensive approach to the oversight of the higher education market, and must use the proposed regulatory reforms to help address the deficiencies identified in this report, if students and the taxpayer are to secure value for money.”