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What To Do If Your Course Changes

Hit by an unexpected change to your course? It doesn’t have to be a disaster. Here’s how to handle it if something goes wrong.

We all want our course to be perfect, and for most of us it will be – the years we spend at uni are often among the best in our lives. But what if it all goes wrong? Whether your favourite tutor leaves, the module you were really looking forward to is dropped from the syllabus, the location of your course is moved, or it just isn’t what you expected, plenty of changes can seem calamitous if you’re not expecting them. 

The majority of the time things will work out just fine, but if the problem can’t be fixed, or if it’s really affecting you, there are steps you can take to set things right.


Don’t Panic!

dont panic
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The most important thing when it comes to dealing with any problem at uni is to not panic. Try to take a step back, and look at the problem from an outsider’s perspective:  is it really as bad as it seems?

For example, if you applied for a certain course because you were looking forward to being taught by a 'star' lecturer who then leaves before term starts, it might be upsetting at first, but it needn’t be the end of the world. All of the lecturers on your course should be able to offer you a great education – they wouldn’t have got the job otherwise.

Similarly, if a module you were especially looking forward to is dropped from the syllabus, try not to get upset. Think about what other modules you might like to take in its place – perhaps there’s something similar? You might find even find another module you’re even more interested in.


Talk To a Tutor

talk to a tutor
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If you’re still worried or upset, try confiding in a trusted tutor. They may be able to put your mind at ease regarding how much the change will actually effect your course, suggest alternative classes/modules etc, or give you more information about what to do next if you’re thinking about making a complaint.


Changing Courses

changing courses
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If your course turns out to not be at all what you were expecting and you realise you really don’t want to stay, you might want to consider changing courses.

Switching courses, especially if you’re thinking about moving to a completely different subject, might seem daunting, but it’s not as big a deal as it seems. Many universities are happy for you to switch courses within the first term – you won’t even need to wait for the next academic year.

If you want to change at any point within the first year, you may also be able to switch without taking time out, though if it’s later in the year, it may depend on if the knowledge you’ve learned so far can be transferred to your new course. If not, you might have to wait until the next academic year and re-apply to university to study a different course.


Major Changes

major changes
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If a major change is made to your course, you might want to consider making an official complaint. Some examples of a major change include:

  • If the location of your course changes
  • If the fees are raised or you are asked to pay another unexpected cost
  • If the content of your course, or the volume of work you have to complete in order to pass our course is radically changed.


Making a Complaint

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If a major course is made to your course, you have the right to complain.

The first step is to make an official complaint to your university. The process may differ between institutions, so if you’re not sure check your course provider’s website or handbook, or drop into your student union and ask for advice. Make sure you go in ready – check the contract you have with your university, and point it out if you think they have breached the terms. Once you have followed the complaints procedure, you should be given a Completion of Procedures Letter.


Complaining to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA)

If you’re unsatisfied by the outcome of your complaint at university level, you can take it to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) within three months of receiving your Completion of Procedures letter. This is an independent body that will take another look at your case. Universities have to follow whatever recommendations the OIA makes.


Financial Redress

Since October 2014, university students have been protected under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. This means that if your university used misleading terms in your contract, such as by offering course features or services it is unable to provide, you may be entitled to some form of financial redress. This might be in the form of a refund of the fees you’ve paid so far, or even financial compensation.

If you find the small print on your contract says the university is entitled to make any changes it wants, you might still be able to complain. Under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations, your university needs to prove its terms are fair. If it makes a significant change to your course and can’t give a good reason why, or if the change was something the university could have prevented from happening, they still may be in breach of the terms of the regulations, leaving you free to complain and seek redress.


It Happened to Me: Student Experience

my story
image via psychologytoday

To get an insider perspective, Postgraduate Search spoke to two graduates who were hit by changes to their course…

Lee’s Story

Lee Hazell was accepted to read film studies at university, but just weeks before his course was due to start, he got some unwelcome news.

He told us: "Just before the first term started the university got in contact to tell me the course had been dropped because not enough students had signed up to make it financially viable. I was gutted and didn’t know what to do, so when the university recommended I take its TV production course instead, I agreed.

"They told me I would still be studying on the main campus – so I was pretty surprised to be informed as soon as I accepted that I’d actually be studying at a sixth form college. Worse than that, the TV production course wasn’t even a degree – it was an HND. I felt completely mislead, but felt I had to go through with it. I was miserable for the next two years."

We asked Lee if he had any advice for prospective students who find themselves in the same situation. He said: "My advice is don’t panic! When I was studying for my A Levels there was a lot of pressure put on students to go to university right away. I’d already taken a year out to work and save up for my course, and I felt like I’d be a failure if I didn’t start that year. With hindsight I realise it’s not a big deal to take a year or two out. If I could do it again, I would have waited until the next year and applied to study film studies somewhere else."


Lawrence’s story

Lawrence Cain read theatre studies at university. Everything was going well, until he turned up for the new term to discover the theatre had been closed down.

He said: "I’d already completed the first two years of the course, and everything was fine. But when I arrived for my third and final year, I discovered that the university’s theatre, where we regularly had classes and were preparing for our dissertation equivalent final performance, had been locked up ahead of major renovation works. Our lecturer wasn’t very supportive, and just told us we would have to find somewhere else to study – so we cleared out the storeroom under the stairs and set work to work rehearsing there."

However, Lawrence’s story has a happy ending: "The positive I took from this is that you can fight the establishment and win. Unhappy with our situation, my course mates and I took the matter to our student’s union, who helped us to organise a campaign to raise awareness of what was going on. This led to several meetings with the head of the department, and eventually, to a meeting with the chairperson of the university. We ended up getting the theatre back in time for our final term."


The moral of the story is, don’t be nervous about taking your time to decide if your course is right for you, and switching subjects or even universities if you think it’s not.

If you’re dealing with a major change to your course, don’t be afraid to fight for your rights; whether that’s engaging the help of your student’s union, making a formal complaint or even seeking a refund or compensation.

With fees already set at £9,000 a year you’ve got a right to be picky, so if you’re not happy, speak up!


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