A TV ad for Oxford Business College, seen on ITV3 on 26 August 2016, featured scenes of students. A voice-over stated, "Places are now available in clearing at Oxford Business College. Complete your business degree in just two years" whilst on-screen text stated "Complete your business degree in just two years* *subject to individual university criteria". The voice-over continued "… with our fast track HND diploma in business. One A-Level required" as on-screen text stated "One A-level required" and smaller on-screen text stated "Subject to a successful pre-admissions interview. T&Cs apply. See [website address]".
The complainant challenged whether the claim that a business degree could be completed in two years was misleading.
Oxford Business College said the College ran a four-term year which accommodated the 15 modules for a BTEC higher National Diploma in Business Management; this combined levels 4 and 5, equivalent to the first and second year of a degree. Upon successfully completing and passing all the modules within one year (made up of four intensive terms), the student could progress to a university to top-up in the final (i.e. the third) year of a degree (level 6). They therefore considered that a full degree could be achieved within two years.
They provided documentation showing that several students had completed a BTEC at the college in one year. They provided signed testimonials from those students confirming they had also completed the BA Top Up at Oxford Brookes University, and had therefore completed their Bachelor's degree in two years.
Oxford Business College added that they were validated by Pearson for the BTEC qualifications, with a Pearson Annual Monitoring visit and QAA Quality Assurance Agency review.
Clearcast had sought clarification as to how a two-year business degree could be undertaken. They understood the BTEC National Diploma was offered on a fast-track basis which took 12 months. Once completed, students were then eligible to attend the final year of a degree course at their chosen university. With both being completed successfully, that duration would total two years for a full business degree.
They had noted that the Oxford Business School was not in control of the universities where the ‘top up’ could be achieved. Because there might be additional criteria that some universities had in place, the qualifying text “Subject to individual university criteria” was placed within the ad. They considered that the mechanics of obtaining a business degree within the two-year period had therefore been communicated as a pre-course step which needed to be followed on with the final year of a degree to be completed at university.
The ASA understood that Oxford Business College was offering a fast-track BTEC higher National Diploma in Business Management (HND in Business), which could be completed in one year at Oxford Business College, followed by a further year of study at a separate university to gain a ‘top-up’ degree. We acknowledged that it was theoretically possible for students to complete a Bachelor’s degree in business in two years.
However, we did not consider that consumers would infer from the claim “Complete your business degree in just two years with our fast track HND diploma in business” that the college itself only offered a pre-qualification (in the form of the HND in Business) and, to complete the full Bachelor’s degree, consumers would have to obtain a place at a separate university after one year at Oxford Business College, and complete their degree at that other institution. Although we noted that on-screen text explained that completion of the “business degree” in two years was “*subject to individual university criteria", we did not consider that this qualifying text was sufficient to explain the relevant steps needed to complete the degree qualification.
Therefore, in the absence of clearer information setting out how the “business degree” could be achieved in two years (namely, by studying a fast track HND in Business at Oxford Business College, then completing the top-up degree in one year elsewhere), we considered the ad’s claims were ambiguous.
Moreover, whilst we accepted that documentation had been provided showing that some students had completed their HND diploma in Business in one year, we noted we had not seen any documentation, such as degree certificates, showing that the Bachelor’s degree had been obtained by any students. We did not consider that testimonials were sufficient to support the claim.
Because we considered that the ad did not make sufficiently clear how the “business degree” could be obtained, and because we had not seen sufficient documentation to show that students had achieved a Bachelor’s degree in two years via Oxford Business College, we concluded the ad was likely to mislead.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules
Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Advertisements must not mislead consumers by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that consumers need in context to make informed decisions about whether or how to buy a product or service. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead consumers depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the advertisement is constrained by time or space, the measures that the advertiser takes to make that information available to consumers by other means. (Misleading advertising), 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 3.10 3.10 Advertisements must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification).
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told Oxford Business College to ensure the ad made sufficiently clear which qualifications were offered by which institutions and how those qualifications could be achieved in the advertised timescales, and to ensure they held sufficient documentation to support their claims.