Student Protection Plan

 

1. Risk Assessment

The University of Buckingham is an established provider of over 40 years’ standing. Founded in 1976, the University was incorporated by Royal Charter (RC000730) on February 11th, 1983. The University is not-for profit and is a registered charity. It is a Recognised Body under Statutory Instrument No.2992 (The Education (Recognised Bodies) (England)) Order 2013 and is authorised by its Royal Charter to award taught and research degrees in perpetuity.

As of the last audited accounts posted with the Charities Commission (September 12th, 2017 for the year ending December 31st, 2016), the University returned turnover of £37.28M and held total assets of £46.18M against total liabilities of £20.87M. With these figures in mind, the University believes that the risk of institutional financial failure is very low.

Notwithstanding the University’s strong financial position, no business exists without risk. The University’s risk profile may be divided into four categories: financial, operational, reputational and circumstantial / environmental. Risks are evaluated for materiality and probability and assigned an owner whose responsibility is to ensure that the agreed mitigation is put in place.

The main risks arising from the group’s financial instruments are market risk, liquidity risk and credit risk. The Council, through the Finance, Resources and Estates Committee, reviews and agree policies for managing each of these risks. The University is exposed to some foreign exchange risk; however, the Council does not consider this risk to be significant to operations and accordingly there are no hedging provisions in place. Interest rate and investment-related risks are managed in accordance with guidelines set by the Council. The University’s net liabilities improved during 2016, helped by an increase in cash during the year of £2.8m. The University’s credit control policies provide a comfortable cash buffer derived from fees in advance; prudent budget setting and ongoing monitoring are the main controls. The group’s principal financial assets are quoted investments (within the Foundation), cash and trade debtors. The credit risk associated with the investments and cash is limited as the counterparties are established financial institutions. The principal credit risk arises therefore from its trade debtors. The nature of the group’s client base is such that it is not significantly exposed to large customers. The Council therefore concentrates efforts on ensuring that the processes around the giving of credit are sufficiently robust.

Operational risks fall into three distinct sub-categories: human resources, electronic and governance / compliance. Staffing risks include those associated with under-performance, illness and early departure; mitigation includes adherence to Human Resources policies and monitoring and review as well as, to the extent that budgets allow, back-up and succession planning. The University maintains resilience in its academic staff teams and the risk to students of provision being curtailed due to absence remains low. Electronic risks include external attack and internal system failure; mitigation includes ongoing monitoring of potential cyber threats, robust maintenance of the University’s firewalls and fireproof back-up. Electronic risks remain under regular review at both the governance and the operational level. Compliance risks include those associated with failing to adhere to the various statutory and regulatory frameworks to which the University is subject, namely: the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, the Immigration Act 2016, the Charities Act 2016/2011, the Bribery Act 2010, the Equality Act 2010, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Data Protection Act 1998 and its successor the General Data Protection Regulations 2018. Mitigation of these risks is undertaken through oversight and monitoring by the Risk, Audit and Compliance Committee, through regular monitoring and operational control and through contingency planning. The University is confident that its approach to risk in is robust and that the risk to students is low.

The University’s ability to recruit depends on its reputation for academic integrity, based on high academic standards, comprehensive regulations and robust quality assurance procedures. Given the University’s ongoing performance in this area (e.g.: TEF Gold, strong NSS results, successful QAA reviews in 2002, 2007, 2012 and 2017), the University is confident that academic standards and quality do not pose any significant risk to students.

The University’s circumstantial / environmental risks are the same as for any major institution, namely those associated with a catastrophic event such as disease, fire or flood and/or those associated with Force Majeure. Mitigation includes ongoing risk assessment, regular safety inspection and the maintenance of appropriate insurance and cash reserves to ensure business continuity in the wake of said events.

The University’s Collaborations Department undertakes thorough due diligence checks prior to making any agreement to enter into a collaborative partnership. The procedure assesses audited accounts, governance, contractual relationships, potential conflicts of interest, insurance and litigation; the outcomes of the initial due diligence are then reviewed annually. Risk assessment is carried out on location, partner type and financial strength among other criteria. Other checks such as the World Bank’s ‘ease of doing business’ and the UK Government’s Foreign Travel Advice are also included where these are required.

The University’s approach to risk assessment is multi-layered and safeguards, as far as is reasonably practicable, the University and its collaborative students from the risks associated with the delivery of education externally. In addition to the due diligence procedures described above, site visits assess the learning and teaching environment and ongoing programme monitoring (through reporting and external examiner engagement) reflect on learning outcomes. These processes enable the University to identify areas of risk with a view to mitigating any potential escalation.

The University has always maintained legally-binding agreements with its collaborative partners. The current contract was designed for the University by a firm of solicitors specialising in higher education and is used as the basis for all contracts. In 2016, a new Contract template was produced for partners in the UK. The Collaborations Department removed ‘rolling’ contracts in 2012 and all partners now have contracts with fixed expiry dates.Wherever possible, the expiry date of the contract ties in with the University’s due diligence and periodic review processes. All contracts are approved by the Chair of the Finance, Estates and Resources Committee and are subject to Council oversight.

 

2. Mitigation Measures

Prior to its accreditation by the General Medical Council (anticipated in July 2019), the University’s MBChB is underwritten by the University of Leicester. Agreements, mandated by the General Medical Council, are in place that will ensure students that may be affected by a sudden withdrawal of the University’s authority to deliver medical education will be able to continue / complete their studies at the University of Leicester. Given the University’s performance in accreditation visits to date (twice per year since 2014), the University has no reason to believe there is a risk that this will occur.

Proposals for programmes and modules to be discontinued, whether for reasons of strategic fit or operational viability, are approved in accordance with the Closure of Programmes procedure. Programme Directors submit a request for the closure of the programme, outlining the rationale for the closure and the arrangements for the teaching-out or transfer of affected students or applicants. The University’s Closure of Programmes procedure makes clear the requirement for the University’s approvals committees to ensure students affected by the closure of a programme are consulted and their interests protected.

The University ensures a Contingency Plan exists for each collaborative partner which considers the best means to allow students to continue their studies in the event of the failure of a collaboration. In most cases, a ‘teaching-out’ arrangement is the preferred option as it is in the best interest of the students, although the worst-case scenario (sudden closure) is also considered.
In the cases of the collaborative partnerships that have ended thus far, all students have been able to complete their courses — with the ‘official’ acknowledgement of the partnerships’ cessation concluded after the final graduation. The University Contract reflects the need to include a provision relating to termination or withdrawal of validation.

 

3. REFUND AND COMPENSATION ARRANGEMENTS

The Competition and Markets Authority confirmed that the University’s practices were compliant with all consumer protection-related legal requirements in July 2016.

Applicants are made aware, by way of the General Regulations for Students of the University, that where they do not take up their places they will be refunded any deposit paid in excess of £1,000, with the exception of Medical Students (£10,000 MBChB and £5,500 Clinical MD); the deposit will normally be refunded in full where a student provides a visa refusal letter except where visa refusal is due to the negligence on the part of the applicant or not meeting entry requirements for MBChB (Clause 2.5).

Students are made aware, by way of the Admissions Terms and Conditions for Prospective Students, of their general right to withdraw from study (Clause 8.3) and, by way of the General Regulations for Students of the University or General Regulations for the MBChB (as applicable), of their right to curtail their ongoing fees liability from the commencement of the following term (Clause 1.2).

The University’s Admissions Terms and Conditions for Prospective Students were updated in August 2016 to reflect Competition and Markets Authority guidance regarding students’ rights in respect of changes to provision and includes information for students outlining their rights and responsibilities in relation to changes that may occur post-registration (Section 9). The Admissions Terms and Conditions for Prospective Students were further updated in May 2017 to include a new provision reflecting the requirements of the Key Information Set to specify the reasons that optional modules may not be available (Clauses 9.2.3, 9.2.4 and 10.3).

Proposals for programmes and modules to be discontinued are approved in accordance with the Closure of Programmes procedure. Programme Directors submit a request for the closure of the programme, outlining the rationale for the closure and the arrangements for the teaching-out or transfer of affected students or applicants. The University’s Closure of Programmes procedure makes clear the requirement for the University’s approvals committees to ensure students affected by the closure of a programme are consulted and their interests protected.

The University ensures a Contingency Plan exists for each collaborative partner which considers the best means to allow students to continue their studies in the event of the failure of a collaboration. In most cases, a ‘teaching-out’ arrangement is the preferred option as it is in the best interest of the students, although the worst-case scenario (sudden closure) is also considered.

The University does not operate a formal Refund and Compensation Policy; however, requests for refunds are considered by the Finance Director and applicable Dean on a case- by-case basis in response to students’ changing circumstances. Likewise, compensation in respect of successful complaints is considered on a case-by-case basis and awarded, without prejudice, in accordance with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator’s Remedies and Redress Leaflet (November 2016). The University will ensure that a formal policy is in place by August 1st, 2019.

Where the University is required to refund any Student Loan payments received, it follow the guidelines by Student Finance England and action refunds through the change of circumstance system whereby we change amounts required and this is then deducted from our next payment. With regards to refunding to students or sponsors, the University always confirms whether a student has a sponsor before refunding any payments directly to the student.

The University maintains sufficient insurances and cash reserves to ensure business continuity in the case of exceptional events and to cover the costs of refunds and compensation as described above.

The University’s Admissions Terms and Conditions for Prospective Students and the General Regulations for Students of the University may both be found in the Regulations Handbook.

 

4. Communication with students

The University will continue to ensure that its academic and administrative staff are aware of the implications of consumer protection compliance in general and this Student Protection Plan in particular through its committees (in particular through Senate, the University Learning and Teaching Committee and the School Boards of Study) and through its procedures for the approval, modification and closure of programmes and modules; these activities will be supported by dedicated training and ongoing routine written and verbal advice and guidance from the Central Admissions and Quality Assurance Offices.

The University’s Student Protection Plan will be reviewed on an annual basis in consultation with the University’s Student Union Executive and will be approved by the Council,which itself includes the Student Union President ex-officio.

In accordance with the University’s Admissions Terms and Conditions for Prospective Students, registered students will be informed of any editorial, minor or major variations (as defined in the University’s Making Changes to Programmes and Modules procedure) no later than Week 5 of the term preceding the term in which the variation shall take effect (Clause 9.2). In the case of changes that occur as a result of circumstances outside of the University’s control (e.g.: the illness, sudden departure or death of a key member of staff) registered students will be informed as soon as is practical (Clause 9.2.5).

Where the University needs to implement its business continuity measures in response to large-scale events, students will be informed by way of the University’s digital channels, by formal letter and, where possible, through ‘town-hall’ meetings designed to assist affected students with understanding the nature and implications of said event and the University’s response to it. The University will ensure that affected students are either signposted to, or provided with, independent advice as appropriate to the given situation.

The University of Buckingham, April 2018

 

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