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

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Six universities have been forced to scrap their marketing campaigns as the United Kingdom advertising watchdog launches a crackdown on misleading students with false claims.

The ASA has launched the crackdown to address "increasing concerns" about the way universities entice students, after the issue was thrust into the spotlight in June, when the University of Reading was forced to withdraw its claim it was in the top 1% of institutions globally.

Meanwhile, the ASA said the University of East Anglia's claim that it was in the "top five for student satisfaction" based on the National Student Survey from 2005 to 2016, was generated using the institution's own "internal reporting tool" and only took into account universities the UEA considered to be "mainstream".

It came 238th of 959 formally ranked universities in the QS World University Rankings in 2018, 254th of 1,000 formally ranked universities in the Best Global University Rankings in 2017, and 237th of 1,000 formally ranked universities in the CWUR World University Rankings in 2016.

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.

The University of West London, also a former polytechnic and ranked 79th, made a bogus claim that it was "top modern university" in the capital.

It said that the evidence provided by the university "did not sufficiently substantiate the claim they meant to make".

"Neither the criteria of how universities were judged upon by other parties nor proof of the total number of universities from around the world was made clear, therefore we did not consider the figure to be substantiated".

It was ruled that the as must not appear again in its current form.

The Advertising Standards Authority examined a range of claims - including the University of Leicester stating that it is in the "top 1%" in the world - and found that none of them could prove the assertions to be true. 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. 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.

The University of West London said: "UWL has fully complied with the ASA ruling".

He added that the ASA will issue new guidance to help universities "get their ads right so students can be confident they'll get what they pay for". "While we disagree with the ASA on their assessment methodology, we will abide by their ruling".