Law Report: College not forced to accept student despite offer: Moran v University College Salford. Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Glidewell, Lord Justice Evans and Lord Justice Waite), 12 November 1993

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Although a prospective student to whom, by a clerical error, a place had been offered, and who had accepted it in the prescribed manner, effectively foregoing his chance of applying elsewhere, had a strong case for saying that the university was contractually bound to accept him, it would be wrong nevertheless to grant a mandatory injunction requiring the university, pending trial, to allow him to attend it.

The Court of Appeal dismissed Paul Moran's appeal against the refusal by Hugh Bennett QC, sitting as a deputy High Court judge on 8 October 1993, to grant a mandatory injunction compelling University College Salford (UCS) to admit him to a BSc physiotherapy course.

Lord Campbell of Alloway QC, and Nan Alban-Lloyd (Clive O Romain, North Lewisham) for Moran; Joe Smouha (Eversheds Alexander Tatham, Manchester) for University College Salford.

LORD JUSTICE GLIDEWELL said that Mr Moran had applied, in May 1993, through PCAS, the Polytechnic Central Admissions System, for a place on a physiotherapy course at UCS. He later received notification from PCAS of an unconditional offer of acceptance. He returned the reply slip on 29 June, accepting the offer. That meant he was not eligible to seek an alternative place in 1993 through PCAS.

On 6 July, PCAS acknowledged his acceptance and enclosed a reply slip which Mr Moran completed and sent on 8 July to the college admissions officer at UCS confirming that he was taking up the offer. He later gave notice to leave his accommodation and to terminate his employment and did not attend a second interview for a job for which he had applied.

But when, on 16 August, he telephoned the course leader at UCS, he was told he had never been offered a place on the course and there was no place for him. Following further correspondence with various officials at the college, it was explained that the offer was a clerical error. The error was on the form on which UCS had indicated its decision on Mr Moran's application to PCAS, and on which the wrong box, marked 'unconditional', had been filled.

It was submitted, for UCS, that no binding agreement had been made. UCS did not make an offer of a place on the course; it merely issued an invitation to Mr Moran to enter into discussions which might lead to an agreement to accept him and provide a course of instruction, in return for his promise to arrange payment of his fees. No contract was to come into existence until he enrolled and agreed to pay the fees.

In his Lordship's judgment, however, the unconditional offer apparently made by UCS was, on the face of it, intended to create a legal relationship between the parties, and appeared to be an offer capable of acceptance. When Mr Moran did so, there was a strong and clear case for saying there was a binding agreement under which UCS agreed to offer him a place if he sought to enrol on the due date. The detriment to Mr Moran in giving up his eligibility to apply elsewhere provided consideration for the agreement.

If Mr Moran's action succeeded, he would be entitled to damages. However, but for the clerical error, he would not have been offered a place on the course for which many others, better qualified, had been rejected. It would therefore be unfair and unjust to compel UCS at the interlocutory stage to accept him on the course.