Donelan targets ‘misleading claims’ in university adverts

The minister announces new non-statutory guidance for student recruitment adverts, urging universities to publish student outcome statistics prominently

The government has issued guidance to universities in England about the statistics used in student recruitment adverts with a warning from the minister for higher education that “students deserve clarity and honesty” about “dead-end courses”.

The new advice prescribes that university advertisements include comparable data on drop-out rates and the proportion of students that secure graduate jobs or pursue further study. The rules apply to digital, television and radio adverts. The idea was first floated by the minister in February. 

As evidence of a need for change, the Department for Education pointed to the 2022 Student Academic Experience Survey, conducted by Advance HE and the Higher Education Policy Institute, which suggested that 59% of undergraduates would opt for the same course and provider if given the same choice again. The previous three surveys found a relatively consistent number of undergraduates (around six in 10) felt they made the right choice the first time: this year, 10% said they chose the wrong university, 8% the wrong course, and a further 5% felt they chose wrongly on both counts. Six per cent wished they had opted for an apprenticeship and 3% for a job.

Better data would remedy this situation for future applicants, “helping them to make the right decision for their future”, said the DfE.

Just as every advert for a loan or credit card must include basic information like the APR, every university advert should include comparable data on drop-out rates and the progression rate of students
– Michelle Donelan, minister for HE and FE

The guidance, which is non-statutory, tells providers: “The two pieces of data to be quoted are the two component metrics, which are used to calculate the OfS [Office for Students] Proceed data (i.e. the ‘completion rate’ and ‘graduate outcome/ progression rate’).”

An advert for a university or a new course should refer to the institutional-level figures; an advert for a course should refer to course-level statistics.

The guidance says data “should be positioned prominently” and suggests it “appear in a prominent position in the opening lines of any advert” and in the same size font “as that of the main body of the text”. Web pages should include the data on the landing page and users should not need to “scroll down” to spot it. Adverts on social media or via influencers should uphold “the principles” and “ensure the data is clearly seen”. TV and radio adverts should quote the figures.

The DfE says its expectation is that universities implement the guidance for all adverts commissioned from 1 July.

Said Michelle Donelan, minister for higher and further education: “Making such a significant investment in your time, money and future is not made any easier by bold university advertising, which often promise students a high-quality experience even when the statistics suggest they will be stuck on a dead-end course.

“I have therefore produced guidance to ensure that just as every advert for a loan or credit card must include basic information like the APR, every university advert should include comparable data on drop-out rates and the progression rate of students into graduate jobs or further study.

“Prospective students deserve clarity and honesty and I will not hesitate to ensure they get it. Quality, transparency and fair access are my priorities and this guidance will help students to make the right decision for themselves and for their future.”


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