UEA has got a real buzz about it since 'Climategate'

Affair has resulted in positive coverage online, an analysis finds. Sarah Cunnane reports

May 6, 2010

It would have taken a brave or foolish soul to cite the maxim that there is no such thing as bad publicity at the University of East Anglia in recent months.

The institution found itself in the eye of a global storm after the hacking of emails in the "Climategate" affair. Publication of the material led to allegations that scientists in the university's Climatic Research Unit had been less than open with critics of their work.

But a new analysis measuring positive coverage of universities in online news, blogs and reviews shows that there may have been a flip side to the awkward scrutiny that UEA has faced.

The university comes second in a league table for positive "buzz" about universities on blogs, up from 53rd place when the rankings were last compiled in 2008.

The survey by Portfolio Communications attempts to measure institutions' standing online. Mark Westaby, the firm's director of online reputation, said UEA had experienced a surge of positivity in the blogosphere "largely driven by Climategate".

The analysis also shows that longer-established institutions, such as the University of Liverpool and Cardiff University, have moved into the top 10 for positive coverage, ousting many of the newer universities that dominated the poll in 2008.

Mr Westaby suggested that this was because "the debate over funding has largely been driven by the older universities and the Russell Group in particular".

The universities enjoying the most positive coverage were the University of Kent on news sites, Glyndwr University in blogs and the University of Sheffield in online reviews.

Top 10 universities by positive coverage online
University of KentGlyndwr UniversityUniversity of Sheffield
University of StirlingUniversity of East AngliaUniversity of Leeds
University of LiverpoolNorthumbria UniversityUniversity of Exeter
Nottingham Trent UniversityUniversity of NottinghamUniversity of Nottingham
Newcastle UniversityUniversity of BrightonUniversity of Plymouth
Liverpool John Moores Coventry UniversityBangor University
Lancaster UniversityNewcastle UniversityUniversity of Edinburgh
University of EssexDurham UniversityHeriot-Watt University
Loughborough UniversityUniversity of LincolnUniversity of Bath
York UniversityUniversity of OxfordCardiff University
Source: Portfolio Communications

Don't ignore the message

The rankings are based on an analysis of the content of almost 4,000 sites, and Mr Westaby said that although it was not intended as an academic exercise, it would be "snobbish" to reject the results out of hand.

"The poll is intended as a useful indicator to help universities position themselves in what is an increasingly competitive environment," he said. "Those that ignore such information do so at their peril."

However, although older universities appear to be enjoying more positive coverage online, a survey of the number of Google searches in the UK conducted in January paints a different picture.

Mr Westaby said that while the universities of Cambridge and Oxford were in comfortable territory at positions three and six respectively for overall volume of searches, they languish at the foot of the table in terms of the year-on-year change.

Oxford saw the number of Google searches fall by 0.9 per cent, while Cambridge saw a decline of 1.6 per cent, he said, putting them in 100th and 101st place, respectively.

The London School of Economics and King's College London suffered even greater declines, according to Portfolio Communications, with a drop in searches of 19 per cent and 21.7 per cent respectively.

At the other end of the scale, newer universities dominate the top 10, with Glyndwr coming out on top with an increase in searches of 109.5 per cent year on year.


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