27th September 2018

University Marketing Strategies

Cachella Smith feels that the use of advertising, league tables and statistics by universities today negatively affects our understanding of what higher education is really about.
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University Marketing Strategies
Photo: Nottingham Trent University @ Flickr

With students across the country descending on their chosen universities recently, some of them could find themselves to have been victims of false advertising. The Which? Consumer group has called out certain universities for false statements made during the student application process. According to the company, there have been several claims of so-called ‘high status’ along with published statistics which simply aren’t true.

Examples of statements which have been placed in the limelight include Newcastle University’s assertion that they were in the top 1% of Universities worldwide, along with Aston University’s declaration that they were ‘ranked within the top 35 universities in all university ranking tables’. These two statements have both been removed from the respective University websites, while Heriot-Watt University maintains that they have the right to claim they are a “world-leading university for pioneering research informed by the needs of industry and research”.

The interesting part of this story, I find, is the link between higher education establishments and marketing campaigns. Students and prospective students are both painfully aware of the economic implications of a university education. Yet hearing university prospectuses and websites being referred to as ‘adverts’ really drives this point home. Unfortunately, the current structure of higher education is something we have very little control over. If you want a degree, it seems you do simply have to cough up. Does giving heed to these advertising claims however suggest that we are (quite literally) buying into the system, and therefore supporting this economic process?

Obviously we would all like to attend the best university we can, but is it beneficial to base the next three or four years of your life on a percentage comparison that, as we have seen here, may not even be true? Choosing universities is always going to be a bit confusing, but to what extent is our decision affected by lists, rankings and league tables? Or perhaps the question we should be considering is how much does this influence suggest we are contributing to the elitist structure of British higher education?

Abiding by league tables, choosing Oxbridge above all, and obsessing over statistics is exactly what powers this advertising system that now controls our education. The power of league tables is only determined by the influence we give them. Yet, at the end of the day, is it realistic to quantify a university with a single number? How could this even touch at representing the range of societies on offer, the mental health support, or the library facilities? Reducing an entire higher education establishment to a figure, and one that differs according to the varying league tables, will serve to re-focus our education system upon numbers, statistics and grades. Things which will only contribute to the competitive environment of education. Yet universities will continually promote themselves using their position in league tables, and apparently, we will continue to listen.

So, not only is it common sense to consider several different factors when choosing a university, but further blindly choosing a university based on statistics could be contributing to the elitist and financial movement that the higher education system now implicates. League tables are an important and useful resource but numbers do not and never will accurately describe an entire establishment. The only power in league tables is the power that we attribute to them, and according to Which?, the numbers are not always true anyway.

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