Online, Oxbridge drops off the radar as there's little 'buzz' about it

Oxbridge is near the top in university rankings, but it's a different story on the web, reports John Gill

December 11, 2008

They have illustrious histories, multibillion-pound endowments and are likely to clean up in next week's research assessment exercise. But do the universities of Cambridge and Oxford have a "buzz" about them?

A new league table that measures what is being said about universities online in blogs and on news websites suggests not.

According to the rankings, those enjoying the most positive cyber-coverage are Leeds Metropolitan University, Sheffield Hallam University and Southampton Solent University.

The University of Oxford, by comparison, languishes in 79th place for the volume of positive online news it attracts, 34th for blogs and 68th for online reviews.

The ranking was compiled by Portfolio Communications in an attempt to measure how reputations are blooming, or suffering, online.

It argues that whatever their provenance, views expressed about an institution online are instantly available to millions and often have a permanency that traditional media coverage does not.

Top 10 universities by percentage of positive coverage online
Leeds MetropolitanSheffield HallamSouthampton Solent
ChichesterNottingham TrentWinchester
SunderlandHuddersfieldEast Anglia
LincolnUniversity of the ArtsThames Valley
Thames ValleyOxford BrookesLiverpool Hope
Manchester MetropolitanLiverpool John MooresCardiff
MiddlesexWolverhamptonEast London
UlsterMiddlesexLeeds Metropolitan
Source: Portfolio Communications

The rankings are based on an analysis of the content of almost 4,000 sites. According to Mark Westaby, the firm's director of online reputation management, they provide an accurate picture of the "volume and tone of online buzz" that institutions are generating.

"The first place that students look for information is the web, and it's natural that this is where the vast majority will get information when choosing a university. The same is true for a business that might be looking to forge a relationship with an academic institution.

"But while universities are putting a lot of emphasis on their official websites, they must not forget that social media, such as blogs and online reviews, are just as, if not more, important; and understanding what these are saying about a university - and its competitors - is critical if it is to succeed in what is now a very crowded environment.

"Just one poor review or a single antagonistic blog could make a significant difference to whether a university attracts the numbers - and quality - of students it requires."

The importance of institutions' retaining control over their online reputation was highlighted earlier this year at an Association of University Administrators conference.

Rosemary Stamp, a higher education consultant, said: "Higher education has no control over the blog attitude, where anyone can ... say whatever they want about you.

"This interface between what other people say about you and what you say about yourself is going to be a major resource issue in the future, because you're going to have to be monitoring or managing it, and a lot of organisations are only just waking up to that."

Despite appearing low down the table of positive "buzz", Oxford and Cambridge fared better in the volume of coverage online, topping the table along with the universities of Manchester, Leeds and York.

Mr Westaby said: "These are the major names in the university world that have obviously been around for a very long time.

"The danger is that they become complacent, and the broader results of the audit suggest that this is something not even the biggest names can afford to do."

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