A number of universities are making unverifiable claims about their reputation which could mislead prospective students, an investigation has found.
Consumer service Which? University discovered that six higher education institutions were describing themselves in ways which were “not clearly verifiable”, in what they said is a “likely breach of advertising standards”.
Aston, Ulster, Heriot-Watt, Aberdeen, Newcastle and the University of the West of Scotland were under the Which? University review, and have all been notified.
Among the claims, the University of Aberdeen said it was “ranked consistently among the world’s top universities” but did not back it up on their website.
The university said in its response: “We are proud that we rank within the top 200 universities in both the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the QS World Rankings, and have done so for many years. These facts mean we can say with confidence that the University of Aberdeen is highly ranked in the world.
“This said, we would never want anyone to believe we have misrepresented our position, so we will enhance our website, marketing and other relevant material to provide clearer qualification regards supporting information.”
Newcastle University also claimed it was in the top 1% in QS World University rankings, but the investigation found it was ranked 141st in the latest table, putting it in the top 15%.
The university removed the claim following a letter from Which? University and in a statement acknowledged that it is “not a particularly meaningful statistic”.
Newcastle said they have now changed the claim to reflect they are ranked in the Top 150 by QS 2019.
Alex Hayman, managing director of Which? University, said: “It is critical that prospective students can trust the facts that higher education institutions are putting forward. However, we’ve found numerous examples of universities falling short.
“We want universities to act responsibly in line with the ASA’s guidelines as thousands across the country prepare to apply for the next step of their education in the coming weeks and months.”
“It is critical that prospective students can trust the facts that higher education institutions are putting forward.
Alex Hayman, Which? University Managing Director
Which? University reviewed the top 93 UK institutions on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018 and looked at their homepage, about pages and information about key facts and figures, and then checked the comparative claims for accuracy.
Rankings systems vary across the world, and not all tables compare the same number of institutions or use the same metrics.
This means a percentage claim could be misleading if it does not clearly refer to the relevant rankings system.
The findings come almost one year after the Advertising Standards Authority told six universities to get rid of potentially misleading claims.
Leicester, East Anglia, Strathclyde, Falmouth, Teeside and the University of West London had complaints against them upheld last November.
The Advertising Standards Agency has published advice on its website advising universities to make clear any claims, and to have the evidence to back it up.
The watchdog said of the Which? University findings: “The Which? report comes off the back of work we’ve undertaken with universities to stamp out misleading advertising claims and it’s good to see the vast majority of universities are sticking to our rules.
“We will carefully consider the findings of the report before deciding if any further action is necessary.”