Scottish universities criticised for '˜misleading' online claims

A number of universities '“ including some in Scotland '“ are presenting 'unverifiable' and 'misleading' marketing claims, making it difficult for prospective students to make informed choices, an investigation has claimed.

Heriot-Watt University is among those named and shamed for 'misleading' online claims

Almost a year after the advertising watchdog upheld a number of complaints about misleading information in higher education, a probe by Which? found that Heriot-Watt, the University of Aberdeen and the University of the West of Scotland (UWS)all made claims about their rankings which it does not believe are accurate.

It said that while Heriot-Watt claimed to be “one of the world’s leading universities for pioneering research informed by the needs of business and industry”, it was actually listed as 351st-400th out of 1,103 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018.

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Meanwhile, it said the University of Aberdeen claimed to be “ranked consistently among the world’s top universities” but did not verify this claim on its website. Finally, UWS claimed that it “ranked in the top 3 per cent of universities worldwide” in its Google search descriptor, but Which? University does not believe that this claim was sufficiently transparent or verifiable.

Alex Hayman, managing director of Which? University, said: “It is critical that prospective students can trust the facts that higher education institutions are putting forward. However, we’ve found numerous examples of universities falling short.”

A UWS spokeswoman said: “We always make sure that any comparative claims and statements made on our website are transparent and verifiable and are in line with the ASA Code.”

A spokeswoman for Heriot-Watt said: “We recognise that we have to be vigilant in how we communicate with potential students. However, we stand by our reputation as one of the world’s leading universities for pioneering research informed by the needs of business and industry.”

A spokesman for Aberdeen University said that the university ranks within the top 200 in both the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the QS World Rankings, but that it had amended its website. He said: “We can say with confidence that the University of Aberdeen is highly ranked in the world, and we do not believe that the description of being a top university is misleading.”