Three out of four university websites fail to provide basic information about the institutions, potentially putting off would-be students, a firm of internet marketing specialists has said.
As the internet becomes as important as the traditional university prospectus, a study by Precedent Communications has found that in many cases would-be students are more likely to seek information from the less- than-reliable online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, which any internet user can edit.
James Souttar, a consultant who carried out the study, said marketing in the higher education sector has become more sophisticated in the past ten years as student numbers have expanded.
But he estimated that 75 per cent of universities still fail to give basic information about themselves on their websites.
His colleague Adrian Porter said: "Only 30 per cent (of institutions) have a clear statement distinguishing themselves from other universities. In an ever-increasing marketplace, if you can't clearly differentiate yourself on the homepage of your website then it's a turn-off."
Mr Porter told The Times Higher that 98 per cent of universities now have a presence on Wikipedia but he warned: "Not many universities are taking control of the content. If you bear in mind that a search result for a university will more often than not bring up the Wikepedia entry, it is important that what is on there is not inaccurate."
Oxford Brookes University is one of Precedent's clients. Pauline Brown, its head of creative services, said it has been working hard to give its own website a friendly and welcoming feel to attract potential students.
"We have found that when it comes to making the decision on a university, the website is up there with receiving the prospectus," she said.