UK: Universities falsely advertising courses will be named and shamed
Over-the-top claims are made to get students to pay those expensive fees. Source: Shutterstock

UK universities are set to face a warning by regulators this week about how they market themselves, the BBC reported.

The self-regulated Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is expected to come up with tougher rules on what universities can say when advertising their courses. It’ll also be naming and shaming up to six universities that have breached the advertising code.

Here’s how the ASA works: It can consider whether a school’s claim pass the “objective substantiation” test – whether the claims can be justified. If it does not have “adequate substantiation”, that’s when it will be ruled as “misleading”.

Usually, advertisers will comply with ASA’s rulings to avoid “bad publicity” – however, repeated refusals to accept ASA’s rulings will get them referred to trading standards officers, who can fine them.

The upcoming guideline follows a complaint earlier this year to the ASA that the University of Reading’s claim that it was in the top one percent of universities in the world was “misleading and could not be substantiated”. Although this claim was based on several international league tables, the claim was considered unacceptable as it could not be clearly agreed upon how many universities there actually are in the world.

The school agreed to ditch this claim after the watchdog contacted them without going through a full investigation, according to The Guardian.  Southampton and Queen’s University Belfast have made the same top one percent claim.

The claims vary too. According to ASA, another complaint was also lodged against the University of Bedfordshire’s “gold standard” teaching quality in the new teaching excellence ratings, when in reality it was only a silver award.

Brands always make grand claims to sell their products – universities aren’t any different from this trend. But these complaints also speak to something bigger and more troubling: Students are increasingly seen as customers to be marketed to by these universities – that universities care more about fees than being 100 percent truthful and performing their public service of educating the youth.

League tables and rankings, that are aplenty and mushrooming by the minute, only serve to exacerbate this problem as they serve as the “basis” for these grandiose claims by universities.

The complaint on Reading sent shockwaves through the industry. Let’s hope ASA’s announcement this week ruffle even more feathers.

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