Several universities are under investigation for using advertisements to mislead students about their academic standards, it has emerged.
The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) is launching a crackdown on deceptive claims by higher education institutions, with new, tougher guidelines due to be issued by the Committee of Advertising Practise to address the problem.
Next week the ASA is expected to identify several universities which have breached the advertising code by exaggerating their intellectual accolades.
Two universities have already agreed to clarify their marketing material, after being contacted by the advertising watchdog.
The University of Bedfordshire faced a complaint about claiming to have “gold standard” teaching quality – when the university held a silver award in the new teaching excellence ratings.
Meanwhile, Liverpool John Moores University was challenged over being more specific about its claim to be “university of the year”, after it emerged that it won the title in this year’s “Educate North Awards”.
There is fierce competition among universities to attract students after the lifting of student number controls in England in 2015 gave universities free rein to recruit as many undergraduates as they see fit.
The move has led to accusations that they now act like businesses, seeking to maximise their revenue by recruiting as many students as possible.
Earlier this year, the University of Reading was told to take down its claim to be in the top one per cent of the world’s universities.
The ASA told the university to remove the claim from its advertising because it “could not be substantiated” and was “misleading”.
The decision came after several UK universities slipped down the QS World University Rankings, which were published this summer. Reading was among those which dropped, falling from 175th place to 188th place.
At the time, Charles Heymann, the University of Reading’s head of corporate communications, said the ASA should now examine other universities who made similar claims.
“The ASA now needs to investigate every single other UK university which claims it is in the top 1 per cent in the world,” he said.