Higher Education: Hard sell and soft soap

Universities are accused of producing prospectuses that are stronger on gloss than on accuracy. By Stephen Pritchard

The process of choosing a university course could become even more fraught after top level criticism of the accuracy of some prospectuses, which implies that some applicants need to second-guess the accuracy of universities' recruitment material.

The report, just published by the Higher Education Quality Council, covers inspections of universities and colleges between April 1994 and July 1995. In that time, HEQC teams visited 48 institutions, and uncovered difficulties with prospectuses, course brochures and other advertising material.

Inspectors found that, although most information was accurate, there were problems in the descriptions of course options, sports and social facilities, and claims universities made about job prospects for graduates.

The HEQC is planning to tighten its guidelines on promotional material. Although criticisms in individual audits were muted, the council is concerned that market forces might encourage colleges to cut corners in the future.

"We would be worried if marketing-led promotion overtakes prudence, and we would want to make sure material contains nothing but the facts," says Peter Williams, director of quality assurance at HEQC. The council is warning universities to ensure that they can back up any claims they make.

Universities themselves do not believe there is a large-scale problem. The University of Central England, at Birmingham, was criticised by inspectors for claims over sporting facilities. Currently, UCE has no pitches of its own, although it plans to buy suitable land. Problems arose when students inferred from the prospectus about sports teams that there were also pitches. According to the students' union president, Stephen Harrison-Mirfield, complaints were made only by one or two individuals. "The university nowhere claimed that we had sports fields," he says. "We have no facilities whatsoever here." Instead, the university hires pitches as and when they are needed.

Mr Harrison-Mirfield does not believe the university should be censured for not highlighting its disadvantages. "Universities will always have prospectuses that make them sound slightly better than they are. How can you sell yourself otherwise?"

De Montfort University, based in Leicester and Milton Keynes, was criticised for some of its promotional materials, although its audit, published last October, was too late for inclusion in the HEQC report. Students told inspectors that De Montfort made claims about course combinations that were not available in practice. This was most common with modular courses, and is a criticism that has been levelled at several other universities.

Professor Michael Brown, pro-vice chancellor, agrees modular programmes can create problems. "You just cannot give students carte blanche to choose what they want," he says. "What students actually want is not a huge variety, but a sensible and coherent path of study."

The university, according to Professor Brown, has procedures in place to check material before it is published. "It is important to us to make sure that we represent fairly what we are offering people," he says.

One source of more serious problems is courses where part of a degree is delivered through a local college of further education. A lack of co- ordination can mean information is not always checked carefully enough.

One such case was settled recently by the National Union of Students' lawyers. Students at Mid Kent College in Rochester enrolled on a three- year programme, franchised from South Bank University. They believed all three years would be taught in Kent, but at the end of the second year, South Bank said told the students they would have to commute to London for the final year. After negotiation, 31 students won pounds 700 compensation: enough to cover the cost of rail travel to Elephant and Castle.

The Mid Kent students were lucky. They had a clear case, and the institution was prepared to settle. The fact that a whole course was affected also helped. For individual students, the old maxim buyer beware is likely to be more useful.

Students advise applicants to go to open days, talk to undergraduates, and read the alternative prospectus, if there is one. "Students should go round them and see what places look like," suggests Stephen Harrison- Mirfield.

Universities are not immune to the "travel brochure" school of advertising. Even a grey campus can look attractive pictured on a sunny day, but what will it be like in November?

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Life and Style
tech

Company says data is only collected under 'temporary' identities that are discarded every 15 minutes

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Life and Style
health

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: I am currently recruiting level 3 n...

Are you a Teacher interested in Special Needs?

£110 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Are you a qualified Teacher w...

**ESOL**

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job:* The Tutor will prepar...

Qualified Teaching Assistant Jobs in Blackpool

Negotiable: Randstad Education Preston: Qualified Teaching Assistant Jobs in B...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album