ASA updates ad guidelines for United Kingdom universities following influx of misleading claims

Syndicate Post image

Syndicate Post image

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) will also be issuing guidance off the back of the rulings later this week to "help universities stick to the rules".

In each case the institution made claims about their performance in university rankings, student satisfaction tables or government indicators that the ASA ruled were "misleading".

For example, Teessidie University was wrapped for stating it was a "top university in England for long-term graduate prospects", which the ASA argued was likely to be understood by potential students as an objective fact but that there was a lack of evidence to support the claim.

Falmouth University stated its claims were based on a defined subset of "Arts Universities" by The Times and Sunday Times University League Table, and it was also ranked as the number one "Arts University" within the same subset in the Guardian University Guide and Complete University Guide in 2017.

Officials found that Falmouth University was unable to substantiate its claim to be the "UK's No 1 Arts University" after an academic complained that there were other higher-ranking universities offering creative courses.

The universities said they based their claims on independent assessments provided by compilers of national and worldwide league tables, including the Centre for World University Rankings, the Times Higher Education World University rankings, the Best Global University Rankings and the QS World University Rankings.

The majority of complaints that were upheld about the universities pertained to misleading or unsubstantiated claims that they were "number one" for certain degree subjects.

An ASA ruling said: "The ASA considered that, in the absence of further qualification, the average consumer would interpret the claim "top 1 per cent world university" to mean that the University of Leicester had been objectively ranked within the top 1 per cent of all universities in the world". But the ASA said the data was "open to interpretation" and the adverts "did not make clear the basis of the claim as the university's own analysis of the cited government data". "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".

Several of the universities said they disagreed with the ASA but would abide by their ruling. Strathclyde, meanwhile, misleadingly implied that the Research Excellence Framework (REF) had ranked it as a the "number one physics department" in the United Kingdom, and the University of Leicester made an exaggerated statement.

Teesside University said: " We strongly believe that the marketing message was accurate but we respect the decision of the ASA and welcome CAP's first, and necessary, guidance for the sector.

The ASA said that the universities' tactics broke the United Kingdom advertising code.

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