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?

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

SEN Teacher, Permanent Role in Ashford

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad urgently seeks a qualif...

Drama Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

**Science Teacher Urgently Required for September**

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Science Teacher Urgently ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice