A paid for Facebook post for the University of Leicester, seen on 17 July 2017, featured text stating that the university was “a top 1% world university” and “A World Ranked University”.
Two complainants, who believed the university did not rank in the top 1% of world universities, challenged whether the claim “top 1%” was misleading and could be substantiated.
The University of Leicester said that the “top 1% world university” claim was based on its ranking in three global university league tables. They stated that the university was ranked 238th (of 959 formally ranked universities) in the QS World University Rankings in 2018, 254th (of 1,000 formally ranked universities) in the Best Global University Rankings in 2017, and 237th (of 1,000 formally ranked universities) of the CWUR World University Rankings in 2016. They also provided evidence of the published results referred to in the three league tables.
The University of Leicester said that the three mentioned league tables operated on the basis that there are approximately “26,000+” universities in the world; therefore it would need to be ranked in the top 260 institutions in order to be counted as a top 1% world university. They stated that as they were ranked within the top 260 universities in the latest QS World University Rankings, Best Global University Rankings and CWUR World University Rankings, therefore it would be considered a top 1% world university.
It said the QS World University Rankings had also communicated its conclusion that the University of Leicester was a top 1% world university, based on there being approximately 26,000 universities globally. The claim in the ad had been taken from this information supplied by the QS World University Rankings. It also stated that in 2013 the QS World University Rankings was independently audited and approved by the International Ranking Expert Group (IREG) Observatory on Academic Rankings and Excellence for the period ending 31 December 2016.
The University of Leicester also highlighted that the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities stated there were “26,368” universities evaluated in its rankings in 2017, which compared the academic web presence and performance of global universities. Additionally, the University said The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018, released after the ad on 5 September 2017, ranked them 159th of 1,000 formally ranked universities. It said The Times Higher Education stated, “The top 1,000 [universities] represents no more than 5 per cent of the 20,000 higher education institutions in the world”. The university stated that to be considered the top 1% of world universities it would need to be ranked within the top 200 places, and they were positioned 159th.
The ASA considered that, in the absence of further qualification, the average consumer would interpret the claim “top 1% world university” to mean that the University of Leicester had been objectively ranked within the top 1% of all universities in the world.
We acknowledged that the information the University of Leicester provided about its results in the QS World University Rankings in 2018, the Best Global University Rankings in 2017, and the CWUR World University Rankings in 2016 were based on published results. The University of Leicester was placed within the top 260 universities in the three published league tables – out of 959 universities in the QS World University Rankings and out of 1,000 in the other two rankings.
We understood that the estimated figure for the total number of universities in the world varied slightly between ranking bodies. The QS World University Rankings stated an approximate figure of “26,000+” of universities in the world. The CWUR World University Rankings stated that there were “27,000+” universities worldwide in October 2017 and that it had evaluated “27,770” universities in its 2017 edition. We considered this figure had grown fairly rapidly and understood both bodies only formally ranked the top 959 and 1,000 institutions, respectively. Additionally, The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018, released in September 2017, stated that there were “20,000” higher education institutions in the world; this again demonstrated the variation in the estimated figure. We were not provided with sufficient evidence to support the figure of “26,000” universities worldwide on which the claim in the ad was based. Neither the criteria of how universities were judged upon by other parties nor proof of the total number of universities from around the world was made clear, therefore we did not consider the figure to be substantiated. Furthermore, because the University of Leicester’s top 1% claim was based on a specific ranking within the top 260 positions in the latest league tables at the time of the ad and because it was ranked close to 260 in all three league tables, the accuracy of the estimated number of universities worldwide would therefore have a significant impact on whether it was genuinely in the top 1% in the world.
In the absence of qualification about the basis of the claim and adequate substantiation, we considered the ad to have exaggerated the level of the university’s relative standing worldwide, and therefore was likely to mislead.
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 University of Leicester to ensure that it held robust data to substantiate comparative claims in future and that the basis of its claims was made clear.