Apple Backs Down on Verification for Educational Discounts in the U.S. (For Now)

Apple Employees and Staff at Apple Store Credit: Camillo Miller / Flickr / CC
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It appears that Apple has quickly reversed course on a change last week that would have begun requiring educational customers in the U.S. to verify their student or teacher status.

Apple has offered educational discounts on products like Macs and iPads for years, but even though pre-purchase verification has long been the norm in places like the U.K. and several other European countries, it’s never been required in the U.S. or Canada.

Instead, Apple has traditionally run things on a “trust-but-verify” honour system. Although Apple does reserve the right to ask for proof of student or faculty status from those purchasing at the education prices, as a rule, the company seems to rarely do this, preferring to take customers at face value.

This is especially true with the online Education Store, where of course the entire transaction is completed without any human interaction. Again, the possibility exists that somebody could contact the buyer to ask for verification before completing the order, but we’ve heard no reports of this ever actually happening.

For in-store purchases, a retail staff member is slightly more likely to ask for verification of educational status, but again this rarely happens. From Apple retail staff we’ve spoken with over the years, it appears that they’re allowed to make a judgement call, and they’ve generally been told to err on the side of trust. This makes sense as it’s in line with the very open, welcoming, and customer-friendly approach that Apple wants to portray at its retail stores.

Last week, however, Apple’s Education Store page suddenly began showing a requirement to verify with UniDAYS, the same third-party outfit that Apple uses for academic verification in the U.K. and other countries. UNiDAYS also acts as the gatekeeper for subscriptions to the $4.99 Apple Music Student Plan worldwide.

The move appeared to indicate that Apple was clamping down on a longstanding loophole that allowed just about anybody to take advantage of educational pricing, whether they qualified or not.

Just as suddenly as the UNiDAYS requirement appeared, however, it was gone only three days later, without explanation.

MacRumors first noticed on Friday that things had returned to normal, although there appears to be no explanation for why this was done in the first place, nor for why it was so suddenly undone.

The prevailing theory at this point is that the UNiDAYS requirement made it more difficult for legitimate users to get properly verified. We saw more than a few complaints online that suggested that faculty and other staff members were having a much harder time getting verified with the service — which, to be fair, predominately targeted university students.

To complicate matters further, Apple’s educational pricing is available for teachers and staff at K-12 schools. It’s not hard to imagine that UNiDAYS would have an especially hard time verifying staff at the 130,000 public and private K-12 schools across the U.S., which are administered by a wide range of local government agencies.

Although UNiDAYS seems to work well enough for students and teachers at K-12 institutions in the U.K., education is much more centralized and standardized in the country, as it is in most other European countries.

It’s also possible that UNiDAYS simply wasn’t ready for the expanded U.S. rollout. Until last week, UNiDAYS was only used by Apple in the U.S. to verify eligibility for the Apple Music Student plan, which is limited solely to university students. The service appeared to still be limited to asking for student IDs when new customers tried to sign up, leaving teachers and faculty scratching their heads as to how they could proceed past that point.

Of course, none of this means that the UNiDAYS requirement won’t make a return; it may have simply been walked back temporarily while Apple and UNiDAYS solve some of these verification issues to make sure that everybody who is eligible can actually get through the pre-qualification stage. For now, however, the U.S. Education Store has returned to the way it was working before, allowing students, teachers, and faculty members to make educational purchases without having to jump through any extra hoops.

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