Under what circumstances, if any, should the good provider be willing to refund fees?
There should be a cooling-off period after enrolment, during which a refund is given on request. Details can vary, but they should comply with the Distance Consumer Contracts Regulations, which came into force in 2014. Similarly, if a difficulty occurs for which the provider has a degree of culpability, and the learner asks for a refund, this too should be met. Otherwise, refund policies vary considerably between providers.
Many operate a strict no refunds policy. This may seem harsh. After all, some courses cost £3,000 and more. Unlike other products, courses cannot be resold, so there is no other way to get your money back. And the marginal cost of one new learner on a course is normally much less than the course fees, so the provider has not incurred much by way of additional costs.
Against this, providers argue that their no refunds policy is clear in the contract, and that if the learner has had access the course then (s)he can reasonably be required to pay for it.
Some try to bridge this gap by operating a phased refunds policy. DEAC, our US counterpart has a detailed scale on which partial refunds are given, depending on how much of the course has been completed. This may be more equitable than offering no refund, but the formula can be quite complex, cumbersome to implement, and only really fair if its assumptions about the relative values of materials and support in a course are fair.
A few offer full refunds at any stage, with no questions asked. This is rare. More common is a refund linked to non-achievement of all or part of a promised outcome. A few providers offer a full refund if, during a certain period after completion, the learner tries and fails to earn an amount, using the skills acquired through the course, equal to the course fees. Others may offer partial refunds if exams are not passed (though this too is rare).
Refunds may be all of the course fees, or with an amount deducted to allow for administration costs. Or they may be offered in kind, as an extension to the current course, transfer to another course, or enrolment on a further course. Conditions can be attached: that materials are undamaged, or with seals unbroken; or that no assignments have been submitted for marking.
All these possibilities comply with ODLQC standards and so can be argued to be 'of good quality'. Nevertheless, there are a few general guidelines which good providers should follow.
a) be definite - adopt a clear and unambiguous policy on refunds, whatever it is
b) be public - publicise that policy in your prospectus, or terms and conditions, so that potential enrolees can see what it is prior to enrolment.
c) be consistent. Stick to your policy; make exceptions only for good reasons.
d) be sympathetic. Learners are real people with real problems. Injury, bereavement, redundancy, financial loss and similar misfortunes can all prevent course completion at no fault of the learners; a good provider will offer a refund in such circumstances: it is the ethical thing to do; it is also good for a provider's public image.
e) be robust. It is not unknown for learners to lie or try it on. If in doubt, ask for evidence - a note from a doctor, solicitor, or other relevant professional individual or organisation.
© ODLQC 1st March 2018