Don’t inflate or they’ll litigate! Accuracy of key information sets

Geraldine Swanton

Press reports indicate that there has been a spate of American graduates suing their alma maters for inflating employment and salary data.  Predictably, those at the vanguard are former law students, who are aggrieved that their investment has not produced the dividends they had been led to expect.  An example of distortion of information by one institution was that the employment rates cited in promotional literature included, without expressly identifying them, part-time work and un-related temporary jobs.  As a result, institutions are being sued for fraud, unfair competition and false advertising.

The American Bar Association, which accredits American law schools, has intervened to require that the reporting of information is complete, accurate and not misleading.  It has also warned that institutions found guilty of such practices put their accreditation at risk.  While no institution wants to undersell itself, providing false or misleading information could amount to an unfair trading practice which is prohibited under UK consumer law (i.e. the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008).   Such prohibitions include misleading commercial practices which cause or are likely to cause the average consumer to take a different decision. Providing false information about the employment record of a course, which induces a student to sign up to that course, could therefore come within the ambit of the regulations. There is also scope for students to claim misrepresentation, though they would have to demonstrate loss suffered as a result of opting for the particular course.

UK institutions, keen to gratify the heightened expectations of students paying £9,000 per year in tuition fees, may be tempted to put a positive gloss,  that cannot be justified by the facts, on the data included in the Key Information Sets.  For the reasons set out above, that temptation should be resisted.

Geraldine Swanton
Senior Associate Solicitor
Education Team
For and on behalf of SGH Martineau LLP
DD: 0800 763 1455
F: 0800 763 1001
International DD: +44 870 763 1385

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