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Ulster University in climbdown over web claim it's in top 3% of universities in world

Ulster University’s campus at Jordanstown
Ulster University’s campus at Jordanstown
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Ulster University has been forced to make a change to its website after claiming to be "in the top 3% of universities in the world".

Which? University carried out a review of UK institutions and found that at least six universities included examples of unsubstantiated or unverifiable claims about their standing on their websites, in likely breach of advertising standards.

"Ulster University stated that it 'is in the top 3% of universities in the world' when it came 501-600th in the 1,103 Times Higher Education World University Rankings in 2018, putting them in the mid-tier of those rankings," a Which? spokesperson said.

"Further, in a website document "Ulster's 50 Facts Worth Knowing" Ulster University included the claim 'Top 2% of universities in the world (QS World Rankings)'."

The spokesman continued: "Which? University is particularly concerned about these comparative claims, given it is less than one year since the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) issued its comprehensive advice in November 2017 to universities about such claims and its rulings which upheld complaints about comparative claims made in university advertising.

"Where universities are making comparative claims about their relative performance, these should be verifiable and provided with sufficient qualifying information to ensure that prospective students are not misled."

Alex Hayman, managing director of Which? University, added: "It is critical that prospective students can trust the facts that higher education institutions are putting forward.

"However, we've found numerous examples of universities falling short.

"We want universities to act responsibly in line with the ASA's guidelines as thousands across the country prepare to apply for the next step of their education."

A spokesperson for Ulster University said: "Ulster University's position in the top 2% of universities in the world is based on the total number of higher education institutions worldwide, rather than the number ranked in each of the global rankings.

"This takes the boundaries of the ranges in which we are ranked in THE (Times Higher) and QS World Rankings, as a percentage of the 26,000 universities globally.

"Our 87% student satisfaction was significantly ahead of the sector and placed Ulster as the top performing Northern Ireland HEI in the 2018 National Student Survey.

"This and many other notable achievements and rankings, reflect our reputation for excellence, innovation, widening participation, regional engagement, and teaching and research of the highest academic quality."

The references have now been removed from the university website. Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University, Aston University, University of Aberdeen, Newcastle University and the University of West Scotland were also forced to alter claims on their websites.

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