The Office of Fair Trading published its report "Higher Education in England" on 14 March 2014 and concluded that "competition in the higher education sector in England is, in many respects, working well". This report relates to the OFT's "Call for Information" which it launched in October 2013 in the light of "the significant changes to higher education funding and an increased emphasis on competition and student choice".
The OFT report does not suggest that the sector is "characterised by anti-competitive behaviour." While it rightly gives a reminder about competition law, it does not propose further investigation on this front and suggests that there are other reasons why most universities opted to charge up to the cap of £9000 pa for undergraduate degrees when the upper limit was increased from September 2012. It also does not propose further investigation into the restriction on individuals who are required to make applications either to the University of Oxford or to the University of Cambridge if they wish to apply to these institutions.
However, the OFT does highlight some areas which it proposes should be considered further by its successor body, the Competition and Markets Authority which takes up its work on 1 April 2014. It highlights some areas where there should be a greater focus on enabling student choice, including the ease of switching between universities. The report emphasises the importance of having fair terms and procedures for students under consumer protection legislation, for example in respect of changes to fees charged.
The regulatory framework for higher education is criticised by the report as being "overly complex" and notes concerns expressed by some respondents to the Call for Information about the lack of a level-playing field between types of providers of higher education. The OFT has advised that the Competition & Markets Authority should be involved in the design of the regulatory regime going forward to ensure the benefits of competition and choice are maximised for students.