A website for the University of East Anglia (UEA), www.uea.ac.uk, seen on 9 June 2017, featured a black box including text stating, “Top 5 for student satisfaction (National Student Survey 2005-2016)” at the bottom of the homepage.
The complainant believed that the UEA did not rank in the top five for student satisfaction and therefore challenged whether the claim “Top 5” was misleading and could be substantiated.
The University of East Anglia (UEA) said that they based the “Top 5” claim on public data from the National Student Survey and that they had used an internal reporting tool to generate the statistic. The rankings generated internally were based on response scores of overall student satisfaction from full-time, first degree students who were categorised as “Taught” (rather than “Registered”) by the National Student Survey. They added that to generate the “Top 5” score they had also applied their definition of “English mainstream universities”, which were non-specialist universities in England that appeared in the Complete University Guide or the Guardian University Guide. They provided evidence to demonstrate how the UEA had been ranked against other universities for overall student satisfaction in the internal reporting tool using the criteria outlined above.
The UEA said the claim in the ad was a result of an administrative error and on receipt of the ASA’s enquiry they had immediately updated it to include further qualification as originally intended. They said the wording had been amended as follows “Top 5 for student satisfaction (National Student Survey 2005-2017. Overall student satisfaction, English mainstream universities)”.
The ASA considered that, in the context of the ad, consumers would be likely to interpret the claim “Top 5 for student satisfaction (National Student Survey 2005-2016)” to mean that the UEA was ranked in the top five for student satisfaction across all types of universities in the UK, between 2005 and 2016.
We acknowledged that the data used by the UEA to generate the statistic was based on public National Student Survey results. However, we understood they had only taken account of those universities they considered to be ‘mainstream’ and that the survey only related to English universities; we considered this to differ from how consumers were likely to interpret the claim.
We also considered that the explanation and documentary evidence provided by the UEA did not sufficiently substantiate the claim they intended to make, which was that the university was ranked in the top five for overall student satisfaction among English mainstream universities from 2005 to 2016. The UEA provided a breakdown of their internal reporting for 2016, based on the 2016 National Student Survey and the criteria and definitions outlined by the UEA. The information provided indicated that the UEA were in the top nine for student satisfaction in English mainstream universities in 2016, based on their score of 91% for overall satisfaction. Furthermore, sufficient evidence was not provided to demonstrate the “Top 5” claim annually between 2005 and 2015, and in 2017. Finally, whilst we noted the UEA had amended the ad to clarify the comparison related to mainstream universities, we considered that in the absence of further clarification this term was likely to be insufficiently clear in communicating which universities they were comparing themselves with.
Because the evidence did not substantiate the claim as it would be understood by consumers, we concluded that it was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are 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), 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification) and 3.33 3.33 Marketing communications that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product. (Comparisons).
The ad should not appear again in its current form. We told the UEA to ensure that they held robust data to substantiate comparative claims in future and that the basis of their claims was clear to consumers.