Winners fail to blow own trumpet

Report says many institutions have not publicised their RAE successes well, writes Hannah Fearn

January 29, 2009

The research assessment exercise may have unearthed "world-leading" work in 150 higher education institutions, but many universities have failed to spread the good news, according to a branding consultancy.

While some universities have been criticised for making exaggerated claims to world-class research following the results of the RAE last month, brand specialist Precedent has found that many have ignored opportunities to publicise their excellence and enhance their reputations.

A report by the firm found that universities dealt with their RAE results in one of three ways: actively, with a dedicated section of their websites and a visible link on the homepage; passively, via press releases; or by doing nothing.

Only a few universities surveyed provided customised information through a special section of their websites. More than half posted the results online, but used a press release to inform the public.

Dean Russell, head of digital marketing at Precedent, said: "Because some universities didn't feel they did as well as Cambridge, Oxford or Imperial, they haven't focused on pushing the positive bits of their results. Some universities that knew they would do well did a really good job, and others that were perhaps a bit more fearful ... didn't see it as a way to communicate the positives."

He added that there are still opportunities for universities to trumpet their successes.

Imperial College London, Oxford Brookes University, the University of Sheffield and Lancaster University were all named by Precedent as examples of good practice in communicating the results.

Lancaster was praised for pointing web traffic to its highest-ranking subjects. "We wanted to communicate our strengths and make our RAE results relevant to different stakeholders," a university spokeswoman said.

Jane Chafer, director of student recruitment, admissions and marketing at Sheffield, said: "Our aim was to find a simple, positive and consistent message that could be understood by a range of stakeholders. Our communications team worked very closely with the research office to interpret the complex data and write copy that was accurate and engaging."

The RAE found that 150 institutions had at least one department with at least 5 per cent of its research judged to be world leading. More than 50 per cent of all research assessed was deemed to be world-leading or "internationally excellent".

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