University Adverts ‘Banned’ For Misleading Claims

Advertising guidelines for UK universities have been updated following a number of misleading claims made in university adverts concerning rankings, student satisfaction and graduate prospects.

The University of Leicester, Falmouth University, University of East Anglia, University of West London, Teesside University and Strathclyde University have all been scrutinised and a number of other Universities have been warned about the legitimacy of their advertising materials.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has told universities to remove claims which are misleading and unconfirmed from websites and marketing material and in future, all claims must hold relevant data to back up promotional material.

The ASA found that Falmouth University was unable to substantiate a claim that it was the “UK’s No. 1 Arts University” and the University of East Anglia was forced to withdraw its assertion that it was in the “top 5 for student satisfaction”.

Teeside University was found to be misleading in stating that it was the “top university in England for long-term graduate prospects” and the University of Leicester had to delete a Facebook post claiming it was “a world ranked University” and “a top 1% world university”.

A University of West London advert was also cut for claiming it was “London’s top modern university- and one of the top 10 in the UK – in the Guardian University Guide 2018” when it actually placed in 58th position, as was the University of Strathclyde’s claim on its physics website that it was the “number one in the UK for research”.

The Universities say that claims were based on independents assessments provided by national and international league tables such as the Centre for World University Ranking, the Best Global University rankings and the QS World University rankings

Following the lifting of student number controls in England in 2015, there has been increasing competition amongst universities to attract more undergraduates.

With the UCAS deadline set for January, thousands of potential students are in the process of applying for universities which could have potentially made false claims.

Guy Parker, the ASA chief executive, said that the ruling sent a clear message to UK universities.

“If you’re making claims about your national or global ranking, student satisfaction or graduate prospects, make sure you practice what you teach: play by the advertising rules, in particular by backing up your claims with good evidence.

“Going to university involves a big financial commitment and misleading would-be students is not only unfair, it can also lead them to make choices that aren’t right for them.

“As well as sending this, we’re also issuing new guidance to help universities get their ads right so students can be confident they’ll get what they pay for.”

A Universities UK spokesman said that universities take their responsibility to use data appropriately in marketing and advertising extremely seriously.

“With a proliferation of university rankings, data and awards now in existence, there is a need for clearer guidelines for universities in how they use this in a way which is clearly understood by students as well as by those working in the sector.

“Universities UK is already in contact with the Advertising Standards Authority and we are keen to work with them on promoting guidance and good practice among our members.”

Further guidance will now be given by the Committee of Advertising Practice to “help universities stick to the rules”.

Olivia Noon

With files from Jonny Chard