Degree adverts should include graduate outcomes, says Donelan

Like credit cards, university advertising should make clear to applicants “the hard facts”, Michelle Donelan has said.

University advertising must soon include “comparable data” on how many students progress from undergraduate study to professional employment or further advanced study.

The requirement was announced today by the minister for higher and further education, Michelle Donelan, who addressed a panel of university leaders at an event organised by Ucas.

The new rules stipulate university marketing include the percentage of students that completed the advertised course and then went into either professional employment or further advanced study.

Donelan said that unlike credit card advertisements that include the Annual Percentage Rate (APR), university adverts – whether online, on television, billboards, or in prospectuses – “are not backed up with the real information, despite the financial exposure of most courses being greater than most credit limits”.

“No matter what the sales line is, or how appealing the wider terms, the APR is written in black and white at the bottom,” she continued.

University adverts make “bold claims about career enhancement and graduate salaries” that are not substantiated, she said, with “the hard facts”. Although advertising can still draw attention to positive National Student Satisfaction (NSS) scores or new facilities, it must also “reflect the need for students to understand where a course can take them”, she said.

The new rules come into force from the beginning of next year’s admission cycle in the second half of 2022.

Donelan used her speech to confirm that Ucas would look to reform personal statements “to the benefit of all students” after a campaign by Prof Lee Elliot-Major and others. “I have always felt that personal statements, in their current form, favour the most advantaged students,” the minister explained.

Elliot-Major welcomed the intentions of the reforms. “So many [personal statements] are now written, polished, edited, co-created by advisers, teachers and parents and not students themselves, amid growing scepticism in universities over their usefulness,” he said.

“Reforming personal statements is a key part of levelling the playing field in university selection, removing systematic disadvantages faced by poorer applicants.”


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