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November 20, 2017
The pressure to get bums on seats for UK Universities is beginning to show, publically. Six institutions have already had misleading claims upheld by The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the UK’s independent regulator of advertising across all media.
Falmouth’s website claimed inaccurately that it was the UK’s No.1 Arts University. Teesside received a judgement related to claims that they were the ‘top university in England for long-term graduate prospects’. The University of West London was reprimanded for implying it was one of the top 10 universities in the UK, according to the Guardian University Guide 2018. It wasn’t according to the ASA.
Leicester, Strathclyde, and East Anglia Universities have also been told to get their act together.
Leicester ran a paid-for Facebook post that said they were a top 1% world university which, the Authority concluded, they were not. Strathclyde received a judgement relating to claims they made about the status of their Department of Physics. And, East Anglia for saying they were Top 5 for student satisfaction (National Student Survey, 2005 – 2016).
The ASA administers a strict code of practice with 22 sections. The Code guides the judgements handed down. It’s clearly all too easy to use statistics and generate misleading claims that form the basis of marketing and communication campaigns.
Col Robertson, education lead at Blumilk, says: “Our education campaigns team is particularly strict when using stats and monitoring those we get from our clients. The team will regularly test the accuracy of the facts and look for suitable replacements if they see a problem. Check out the details of the ASA’s judgements. They get to the point fast and make an interesting reading.”
“We’re probably not far away from a scenario that sees students or parents using the courts to challenge claims made by universities about teaching standards and value for money. After all, a three years course can leave a UK undergrad with a student tuition fee debt of the best part of £30,000.”
In 2016, the Advertising Standards Authority resolved an overall total of 29,000 complaints relating to just under 16,000 ads; over 4,500 ads were either changed or removed as a result. Virtually every complaint the Authority received was from members of the public. And 3 out of 4 complaints related to misleading adverts. The education sector represents a small proportion of the overall total. But, this is not a reason for complacency. Just ask those institutions that have received a judgment against them.
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