A third of the websites run by the world's leading universities are "boring" in their design - with some even described by reviewers as "puritan".
Those were the findings of a research project undertaken by the World 100 Reputation Network, an alliance open to any institution ranked in the world's top 100.
The analysis, which was undertaken in 2008 but which has only now been made public, looked at institutions in the top 100 in the Times Higher Education or Shanghai Jiao Tong world university rankings.
The review, written by higher education consultancy the Knowledge Partnership, states: "Almost a third of websites were thought to be dull or boring at first glance. Whilst 37 per cent were considered modern, only 17 per cent were noted as being particularly attractive and/or eye catching."
It adds: "It is quite shocking that nearly a third of world 100 universities were rated as dull. The days of static photographs plopped onto a site for five years are over."
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Manchester and UCL are praised for good design, while others are seen as less effective.
One site singled out for criticism is that of Brown University in the US, which the review says has a design that "may strike the viewer as dull or puritan rather than stimulating".
Using a survey of institutions and website analysis by reviewers, the study looked at design, messages and content, reputational enhancement, international appeal, material for students and sense of place.
"Of the 22 sites that were scored exemplary in terms of overall impression ... the winners were the US and the UK equally, with Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and National University of Singapore holding up the Asian end," the review says.
Higher Stakes: Managing University Reputation in a Competitive World, World 100 Reputation Network's first international conference, takes place on 22-23 June in Hong Kong. See: www.theworld100.com/worldconference/register/