University advertising guidance ‘could be made mandatory’

Marketing should include data on dropout rates and graduate outcomes, English institutions told

July 1, 2022
Yale University poster

New guidance requiring English universities to include information on dropout rates and graduate outcomes on advertising could be made mandatory if it is ignored by providers, the Department for Education has warned.

Michelle Donelan, the higher education minister, described the code of practice published on 1 July as being vital to prevent students getting “stuck on a dead-end course”.

While the document is non-binding at the moment, it states that “insufficient” take-up may lead to “consideration of whether this should be made mandatory”.

Under the guidance, all forms of advertising including digital, TV and radio should present course and institutional-level data about completion rates and the percentage of graduates who entered “professional employment or further study”, with the results based on Office for Students (OfS) data taken from a Higher Education Statistics Agency survey of graduates 15 months after leaving university.

Commercials for joint degrees should display the completion rate and graduate employment data for both subjects. In cases where data are not available, such as for new courses, universities are advised to include provider-level statistics.

The new rules would also apply to any social media “influencers” paid by universities, the guidance states, adding that “messaging from influencers…should also be accompanied by the appropriate data”.

Universities would not need to include the data “retrospectively” by amending any advertising or prospectuses already in print, while websites would also not need to be updated immediately, the guidance suggests. Instead, “data will be incorporated on websites in line with usual updates”, it says.

Announcing the new guidance, Ms Donelan said “making such a significant investment in your time, money and future is not made any easier by bold university advertising, which often promise students a high-quality experience even when the statistics suggest they will be stuck on a dead-end course”.

“I have therefore produced guidance to ensure that, just as every advert for a loan or credit card must include basic information like the APR [annualised percentage rate], every university advert should include comparable data on dropout rates and the progression rate of students into graduate jobs or further study,” said Ms Donelan, who added that “prospective students deserve clarity and honesty, and I will not hesitate to ensure they get it”.

“Quality, transparency and fair access are my priorities, and this guidance will help students to make the right decision for themselves and for their future,” she continued.

The guidance is likely to fuel concerns about the increasingly interventionist role of the minister and the OfS. This week, English universities wrote to the higher education minister to say that “an important line has been crossed” by her letter telling them to consider pulling out of the sector’s voluntary Race Equality Charter and other diversity schemes.

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Reader's comments (2)

Reminds me of a notice I saw 40-odd years ago when I was a student. "If attendance at the optional Friday morning lecture does not improve, it will be made mandatory." Guess what, it didn't work. Those of us who wanted to attend continued to do so, the rest did not. It's not very useful information anyway. Prospective students want to know about the areas a course will cover and the way in which it is taught - lectures, practical work, group simulations, etc. They might want to know about the directions former graduates of that course have taken... but drop out rates? Please. Prospective students are looking towards suceeding, not failing.
I thought Unies already provide employability scores? What is new here? That Unies should include this score in their ads? Another bshit intervention IMO. Excessive monitoring and reporting > productivity and quality. This sector is doomed to fail because of top management incompetence