Four in ten post-92 university websites fail to give visitors adequate means to get information on the courses they offer, a new study has found, writes Tariq Tahir.
In the first detailed analysis of the way that post-92 universities use the web, consultants Precedent found that many institutions fail to get the basics right in a medium that is usually the first port of call for potential students.
Their report, Modern Universities' Websites: Trends, Observations and Best Practice , states: "A surprising number of sites failed to register positively in response to questions related to the fundamentals of any decent website.
"It came as a surprise that a quarter of the sites do not make their logos a link back to the home page, and a similar proportion do not offer a search facility.
"These two conventions are almost as old as the web itself and therefore their omission could surely only be the result of oversight ... again, rather surprisingly, 40 per cent did not offer a course search, or prospectus download, with seven sites offering neither."
The consultants also highlight shortcomings many sites have in conveying their "proposition".
"We were surprised to discover that only 32 per cent of the sites included a concise positioning statement on their home pages, aimed at differentiating their proposition to the world."
Precedent also criticises a tendency to put "turgid" mission statements on websites.
James Soutar, a senior branding and communications consultant at Precedent, said the web would be "the principal battlefield" in the competition for students. Information on consumer and social networking sites, such as Facebook, could become as influential as that on universities' own websites, he added.