Ulster University will replace advertisements describing it as “world-leading” after two complaints saying it was misleading were made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The posters, aimed at attracting new students, read, “You are only 10 minutes away from a world-leading university”, and were put up on approach routes to it in Coleraine, Northern Ireland.
One complaint to the advertising regulator accused the university of “blatantly misleading” the public and “plainly false advertising” because it does not lead lists of the world’s top universities.
Ulster is currently listed in the 600-801 bracket in the Times Higher Education World University ranking, which rates Queen’s University Belfast joint 198th and Oxford first, followed by Harvard and Cambridge.
The US News puts Ulster University in 814th place in its global ranking, while the Times rates it as the 40th best in the UK.
The Belfast Telegraph reported that a former member of the university’s staff made a complaint to the advertising regulator about the posters.
“The posters first went up at least two months ago, possibly earlier,” he told the newspaper.
“I did contact Ulster University about them, but was literally laughed at down the phone. An email also went unanswered,” he said.
“This does strike me as massively misleading and a naked attempt to deceive. And in agreeing to replace the advertising, the university has effectively admitted to this in an attempt to recruit more students.”
The ASA said: “We received two complaints about this ad. The complainants argued that the claim ‘world-leading’ was misleading, based on Ulster University’s Times Higher Education World University ranking.
“We spoke with Ulster University, and they provided assurance that they would remove the ad. As such, we considered the matter closed.”
The agency said that most advertisers act quickly to change or withdraw adverts breaking its codes. Those that don’t can face punishment from Trading Standards or Ofcom.
Ulster University is the largest university in Northern Ireland and the second largest on the island of Ireland. It has several campuses, including in Belfast and Coleraine.
An Ulster University spokesman said: “There has not been any formal investigation nor sanction from the Advertising Standards Agency in relation to this ad. The university is, however, in the process of replacing this ad.
“The ‘world-leading’ reference in this ad was based on a number of factors and rankings, and particularly the Research Excellence Framework 2021 rating.
“That independent expert reviewer specifically defines that ‘97 per cent of Ulster University’s research environment is world leading or internationally excellent’.”