Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Competition Questions over Rule That Restricts Applications to Oxbridge: News

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Competition Questions over Rule That Restricts Applications to Oxbridge: News

Article excerpt

The rule that stops students from applying to both the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the same year could amount to a breach of competition law by restricting consumer choice, experts have suggested.

The Ucas rule means that the two universities do not compete over the same students after applications have been submitted. No other UK institutions have such agreements with each other.

Speaking privately to Times Higher Education, several scholars of competition law said the rule could be challenged.

And they suggested that another Ucas rule - that of restricting prospective undergraduates to five choices of institution - could also be challenged under competition law.

Looking at the Oxbridge applications rule, Dennis Farrington, visiting fellow at the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies and co- author of The Law of Higher Education, said that there "may be an element of uncompetitive practice here given the pre-eminence of those universities and their domination of the market".

However, he added that he would "not like to stick my neck out and say this is definitely the case".

Speaking generally, Christopher Townley, senior lecturer in international competition law and regulation at King's College London, said that competition law "does have lots of implications in universities we haven't thought through".

He added that universities were likely to be subject to competition law in terms of applications, as this related to the buying and selling of services.

Competition law, as established in European Union statutes and incorporated into UK law, targets "undertakings" - defined as any entity engaged in an economic activity - a category more likely to cover universities since tuition fees rose and direct state funding fell.

Ucas, a limited company, could be affected by competition law as an "association of undertakings". …

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