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Council: mis-sold civils degrees could trigger legal action

Some universities are misleading students by overstating the accreditation level of their civil engineering degrees in their marketing materials, ICE Council heard last week.

It is “only a matter of time before a student takes a university to court” for mis-selling their products, Joint Board of Moderators (JBM) chairman John Roberts told Council.

This is despite JBM providing standard accreditation statements for universities to use in their course descriptions.
JBM-accredited courses enable students to become ICE members.

The JBM is sponsored and appointed jointly by the ICE, the Institution of Structural Engineers, the Institute of Highway Engineers and the Chartered Institute of Highways and Transportation.

Reputational risk

It was acknowledged that there is an element of reputational risk for ICE if the matter continues. Council member Chris Burton asked “Where does the risk lie for us? Council should give a mandate to the JBM to protect the ICE from that threat”.

A range of options to combat the lack of vetted information on websites was suggested, including an engineering “kitemark” be adopted, for ICE accredited university prospectuses and websites to display.

ICE director general Tom Foulkes highlighted that the institution’s Royal Charter gives it the same rights as an individual in law. This means the ICE could take legal action against those incorrectly communicating the level of accreditation of their courses.

“Would one of the chartered bodies want to take action, to remind universities of our ability to go to law - that could change in behaviour?,” he asked, noting that this approach had been successful in the past.

Clarification requested

The JBM has already notified offending universities asking them to clarify the accreditation status of their courses.

At Council, it was announced that Trading Standards is to be consulted at the end of June if universities fail to revise the wording of their course descriptions.

In the case of a university continuing to refuse to change the information following this, the decision may be taken to de-accredit universities selling courses with misleading information.

Council resolved to pursue the issue and to possibly name and shame universities which failed to comply. ICE vice president Bill Hewlett added that “if members see specific problems [with universities] then we encourage them to flag them up.”

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