Universities are being warned about making false ‘world best’ claims on their websites to attract students.

Researchers from Which?, the consumer magazine, say some universities are using league table positions that either do not stand up to close scrutiny or are unverified to make their claims.

Which? says this is confusing potential candidates over which institution they should choose.

The findings come a year after several complaints were upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over misleading information being given by universities.

The ASA then advised universities to be clearer in their claims and to substantiate them.

Claims being made by universities in the UK

Now a review of claims being made by universities in the UK has found that six institutions have unverifiable or unsubstantiated claims on their websites. Which? says this is likely to be breaching advertising standards.

Among the examples are Edinburgh’s Herriot-Watt University which says it’s one of the leading institutions in the world for pioneering research informed by the needs of industry and business.

The claim is not supported by facts or figures on the website and the University is ranked in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings in the 351 to 400 band – out of 1,103 universities examined.

The university says the claims stands because of its close business links.

Researchers have also taken issue with Aston University in Birmingham which claims to be ‘ranked in the top 35 universities’ in all ranking tables.

When challenged by Which?, the university says this claim refers to measures of employability rather than referencing its overall league table rank.

University says the claim is ‘ambiguous’

However, the university says the claim is ‘ambiguous’ and has removed it from their website.

Another claim that’s been removed is one from Newcastle University, which claimed to be in the top 1% of the QS World University rankings – despite being in 141st position, which puts it in the top 15%.

A spokeswoman for Which? said: “It’s critical that students trust the facts from higher education institutions and we found examples of universities falling short.”

The organisation now wants the institutions to act responsibly.

The president of the National Union of Students, Shakira Martin, says one of the issues is that universities are trying to boost their chances of attracting larger numbers of students and more money.

Most universities are sticking to the rules

The findings have also been brought to the attention of the Advertising Standards Authority and they said that most institutions are sticking to the rules.

However, the ASA says it will look at the report’s findings before deciding if further action is required.

The chief executive of the Office for Students, Nicola Dandridge, told the BBC: “Universities must take this issue seriously and it’s essential their marketing material is accurate or students will be misled otherwise.”