Student Protection Plan

1. Risk Assessment

An assessment of the range of risks to the continuation of study for your students, how those risks may differ based on your students’ needs, characteristics and circumstances, and the likelihood that those risks will crystallise

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 and is authorised to award taught and research degrees in perpetuity. The University is listed on the UK Register of Learning Providers (UKPRN 10007787) and is registered with both the Office for Students as an Approved Provider and the Charity Commission for England and Wales as a not-for profit Charity (Charity Number 1141691).

The University’s risk profile may be divided into four categories: financial, organisational, 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 University’s last audited accounts (year ending December 31st, 2019), reveal a turnover of £39.95M (£39.79M Group) and total net assets of £13.75M (£20.16M Group). Gearing remains low with the University maintaining a £5M term loan and an unused £7M revolving credit facility and occupying an un-mortgaged built estate with an independently-assessed book value in 2021 of £48.7M.

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 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 (held within the related Charity, The University of Buckingham 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.

The University acknowledges the financial and other risks attached to its major projects including the potential failure to deliver to time, cost and/or quality expectations and/or the expected benefits on completion and has included substantial provision for them in its accounting policies.

With all of the foregoing in mind, the University believes that the risk of institutional financial failure is low.

Organisational risks fall into several distinct sub-categories: strategic, market, academic, student experience, compliance and legal, estates and infrastructure (including IT infrastructure), data security and human resources.

Strategic risks include the failure of the University to clearly articulate its vision, mission and values resulting in poor strategic and business planning and confused messaging and consequential failure to extract and deliver full value to stakeholders including students from its various endeavours (including collaborative partnerships). Market risks arise from the failure of the University to attract sufficient students to ensure financial and academic sustainability. Mitigation of these risks is undertaken by the Council, the Risk, Audit and Compliance Committee, the Senate and the Executive Group with particular reference to the University’s Risk Register.

Academic risks include the failure of the University to enable students to achieve good outcomes in respect of continuation and completion rates, attainment and employment outcomes and/or satisfaction with their studies. Similarly, student experience risks arise from the need to ensure the University adequately support its students’ academic, pastoral and behavioural needs. Mitigation of these risks is managed through the oversight of the Executive Group and Senate and academic and operational planning.

Compliance and legal 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, the Bribery Act 2010, the Equality Act 2010, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Data Protection Act 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.

Estates and Infrastructure risks include the failure of the built estate or IT-related services to support the University’s academic and student experience strategies. Data security 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. Data security risks remain under regular review at both the governance and the operational level.

Human resources 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.

The University is confident that its approach to risk in these areas is robust and effective and that the risk to students remains 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 complex geopolitical and demographic trends and/or 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 the risk assessment of collaborative partnerships 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 base contract was designed for the University by a firm of solicitors specialising in higher education and is further developed by the University’s in-house Legal Services team.

2. Mitigation Measures

The measures that you have put in place to mitigate those risks that you consider to be reasonably likely to crystallise

In accordance with the University’s Student Contract, 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) as soon as practicable, normally being no later than the date at which the timetable is published for the upcoming term (Clause 10.6). 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 or insufficient demand) registered students will be informed as soon as is practicable (Clauses 10.7-10.9).

Proposals for programmes and modules to be discontinued, whether for reasons of strategic fit or operational viability, are approved in accordance with the University’s 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 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

Information about the policy you have in place to refund tuition fees and other relevant costs to your students and to provide compensation where necessary in the event that you are no longer able to preserve continuation of study

The Competition and Markets Authority confirmed that the University’s practices were compliant with all consumer protection-related legal requirements in July 2016. The University’s Student Contract was fully revised in 2018 and reflects 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 (Clauses 10.5-10.9)).

Applicants are made aware, by way of the Student Contract, that, for those applicants that do not ultimately take up an accepted place, deposits will normally be refunded in full where the applicant is able to provide a Visa Refusal Letter that confirms the visa refusal is not due to negligence on the part of the applicant (Clause 5.5d); in the case of MBChB, MMed and MSurg applicants only an amount of £10,000 will be retained to cover administrative costs.

Students are made aware, by way of the Student Contract, of their general right to cancel their contract and withdraw from study (Section 16) and the extent of liability they may incur in doing so (Section 5).

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 Chief Financial Officer (or delegate) and applicable Dean on a case-by-case basis in response to students’ changing circumstances. Likewise, compensation in respect of successful complaints is considered by the Registrar (or delegate) and applicable Dean on a case-by-case basis and awarded, without prejudice, in accordance with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator’s Putting Things Right Leaflet (February 2019).

Where the University is required to refund any Student Loan payments received, it follow the guidelines by Student Finance England and actions refunds through the change of circumstance system whereby we change the amounts required and this is then reconciled with 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.

View the University’s Student Contract and General Regulations for Students of the University.

4. Communication with students

Information about how you will communicate with students about your student protection plan

The University will publish this Student Protection Plan on its website.

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, through line management 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 Academic Compliance teams.

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 Senate, which itself includes the Student Union President ex-officio.

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, by way of ‘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.