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UK higher education had more than its fair share of ups and downs over the past week. Charlie Ball, Head of Higher Education Intelligence at Prospects, charts the highs and lows.
As the Office for Students places a moratorium on ‘conditional unconditional offers’, Jon Scott, HE consultant and former Pro Vice-Chancellor (student experience) at the University of Leicester, reviews the context of the decision and considers its implications.
Universities across the UK have rapidly moved their learning, teaching and assessment online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The unprecedented overhaul of traditional teaching practices has presented a major challenge to institutions, staff and students. In this Good Practice Briefing, HEi-know shows how some universities have responded to the situation.
Sutton Trust associate director of media and communications Hilary Cornwell and research and policy assistant Maariyah Dawood comment on equality and widening access issues that have emerged in a week of higher education news.
Reviewing a week of higher education news, Action on Access Director Andrew Rawson celebrates positive action on equality and social inclusivity taken in the HE sector and calls for matching support from the government and employers.
Universities which use terms like “number 1” or “leading” in advertisements need to include evidence to substantiate the claims, according to new advice.
The Committees of Advertising Practice, which writes the advertising codes, has issued guidance to the sector following rulings by the Advertising Standards Authority which found that six universities had published “misleading” adverts.
In the short, online guidance, universities are warned that it is “essential” that they hold documentary evidence to substantiate a comparative claim. The information should be accessible to the average consumer, who is unlikely to have sector specific knowledge, and should be included in the marketing material or signposted, it said.
Comparative claims, for example “No.1” or “Top 5”, based on a ranking or analysis by an independent party, should not be presented as “objective facts”, and should be sourced by publishing the name and date of the report or league table results on which the claim is based.
Universities are also told to avoid ambiguous terms such as “modern university” or “prospects”, unless sufficient qualification of their meaning is given.
For instance, an advertisement for the University of the West of London which stated “named as London’s top modern university - and one of the top 10 in the UK - in the Guardian University Guide 2018” was ruled misleading by the ASA, which considered that, in the absence of qualification, the term “modern universities” was ambiguous.
Exaggerated claims may also fall foul of the regulator. The University of Strathclyde was told to change an advertisement which included a headline which stated “We’re ranked No.1 in the UK”, with text below this stating “The Department of Physics at the University of Strathclyde, in the centre of Glasgow, has been rated number one in the UK for research in the REF 2014.”
The ASA found that the University only provided evidence of being ranked as “No.1” for physics research by the Times Higher Education's analysis of the REF 2014 results, rather than directly by the REF 2014 assessment.
Universities UK is now consulting with the ASA on guidance to universities.
A UUK spokesperson said: “Universities take their responsibilities to use data appropriately in advertising and marketing extremely seriously. With a proliferation of university rankings, data and awards now in existence, there is a need for clearer guidelines for universities in how they use this in a way which is clearly understood by students as well as by those working in the sector.
“Universities UK is already in contact with the Advertising Standards Authority and we are keen to work with them on promoting guidance and good practice among our members.”
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