Webinar: Consumer Protection and Higher Education – A Summary
Prof. Dr. Hj. Hazman Shah Bin Abdullah
The talk by Mr. Menon on Consumer Protection and Higher Education should be part of the high education management development scheme by AKEPT. It is not often that we get to listen to a higher education law expert who has vast top-level high ed experience. For all those who speak about a student-centered education, of students as customers whose needs HEIs must satisfy, Menon’s talk would have made them if indeed the students are treated fairly in the various higher education laws. Indeed, it is his opinion as many others would share, that students’ rights as citizens are diminished the moment, they enter the halls of the academe.
The following is a summary of the points made in the webinar.
1. The student-HEI relationship is founded on a contract. HEIs are required to provide students an education, regardless of the level, which is based on the minimum standards set by authorised agencies like Malaysian Qualification Agency and the various professional bodies.
2. The Consumer Protection Act 1999 (CPA) has in major ways strengthened the contractual position by laying out ways in which the contractual terms imposed by HEIs can be challenged and rendered void.
3. Menon explored some legal technicalities like whether education is commerce, trade, and whether education is a service; is the whole of the HEI a trade or it is just some parts of its activities which are patently commercial.
4. A key issue explored is the duty of care owed to students when delivering the programme. Do the HEIs and their employees owe this duty to students? How does this affect their right to seek redress if the HEIs or their agents fail in their duty? Although courts have eschewed evaluating the sufficiency of the service provided to the students, there are new grounds to expect a higher level of responsibility, accountability, and professionalism on the part of HEIs and their employees. Some recent cases have raised questions, in some circumstances about the culpability of HEIs and their employees when students fail to complete their programmes.
5. Another key point he repeatedly made is the role of the accreditation standards issued by MQA in establishing and understanding the duty of care to be exercised by HEIs. HEIs which fall short of these standards may be potentially culpable for not providing the service contracted with the students.
6. The talk also dealt with the requirement that under the implied terms imposed by the CPA, the HEI’s service or product must be fit for purpose. This requirement raises plentiful of risks for programmes designed and delivered by HEIs. Are they fit for the purpose? This opens a pandora’s box in higher education. What is the purpose; whose purpose; how to balance multiple purposes and myriad other questions.