By Daniel Hunter

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has launched a call for information on the provision of undergraduate higher education in England by universities and other institutions.

Universities play a crucial role in the UK economy. They contribute directly to economic growth, employment and local economic activity, delivering skilled workers into the wider economy, and contributing to export earnings. In many respects, UK universities are world leaders in research and teaching.

Recent reforms in England have aimed to give students greater choice and to drive greater competition between universities, within policies designed to achieve Government objectives such as ensuring fair access to higher education.

In launching this project, the OFT wants to understand whether universities are able to compete effectively and respond to students' expectations. It also wants to understand whether students are able to make well-informed choices, which help to drive competition, to support them in acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary for themselves and the wider economy.

The OFT is particularly interested in receiving information about how universities compete, the impact regulation has on universities, and students' experience of the current system, including in relation to:

- how universities compete between themselves for students, in order to deliver value for money, including how they go about setting fees, deciding what courses to offer and how they should be delivered

- whether the regulatory system is contributing to effective competition or undermining it - for example by creating any barriers to universities expanding or innovating

- whether students can access the right information to enable them to make properly informed choices about universities and courses, and whether there is sufficient clarity about what students can expect

- whether universities meet students' expectations and whether there are appropriate channels for complaints and access to redress if things go wrong.

Clive Maxwell, OFT Chief Executive, said: "Universities in England enjoy an enviable reputation across the world. We want to ensure that choice and competition between universities play a positive role in underpinning their success in future, and encourage students, universities, employers and others to respond to our call for information."

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