Nottingham Trent University is to investigate the marketing and publicity strategy of Southampton Institute, whose courses it validates, after receiving complaints from the Channel Islands education authorities. The authorities complained that the institute was advertising itself in a Jersey newspaper as "one of the largest of the British universities".
The institute, which has already received a rebuke from the Greek government for describing its Athens-based campus as Southampton Solent University, has been waging a high-profile advertising campaign in an attempt to attract students.
In an advertisement in a Guernsey newspaper, the institute told prospective students that "whatever your A-level results, you can make the grade at Southampton Institute", that there would be "no big showdown on your grades", and provided an 0800 number hotline.
In separate publicity, sixth-formers were told that the maritime leisure management degree at the institute's Alicante campus in Spain was "more pleasurable than maths at Manchester".
Keith Short, Nottingham Trent's deputy vice chancellor, said the suggestion that Southampton Institute held university status was "very unfortunate". He said that its marketing strategy would be investigated next month as part of a quality audit, which Nottingham Trent conducts annually as the institute's validating body.
The criticism comes as a further blow to the institute's director, David Leyland, who in the last week has received votes of no confidence from staff, lecturers' union Natfhe and the student union. Next month a Higher Education Quality Council audit report will criticise the institute's overseas franchise operation.
In a parallel move, the Channel Islands authorities have elicited from the institute a commitment to submit draft copies of advertisements intended for the Jersey and Guernsey press. Brian Grady, director of education in Jersey, said the education department was keen not to see a repetition of what he called "a clear breach" of marketing guidelines laid down by the Channel Islands Universities Consortium - Brighton, Bournemouth, Plymouth, Southampton, Portsmouth and the French university of Caen.
Southampton Institute denies any attempt to mislead students. Anthony Chmarny, a spokesman, put the claim that the institute was "one of the largest British universities" down to "a printing error". He said: "It was placed just once, it was then pulled immediately, and we corrected the advertisement. We do not profess to be a university."
The institute also rejected the claim that the Alicante maritime degree was better than maths at Manchester. Mr Chmarny said: "It is not meant to mean Manchester University. It's just a play on words."