Universities scrutinised over top 1 percent ranking claims

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UK universities are being increasingly scrutinised over claims of being ranked in the top 1 percent of universities in the world, with complaints to the advertising watchdog being made about them as misleading.

The BBC reported that the University of Reading had recently been asked to take down a claim in its marketing that it was in the top 1 percent of universities around the world, on the grounds that “such a figure could not be substantiated”. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) will not follow up with a formal investigation, stating that the issue had been “informally resolved”, and that the university had agreed to remove the claim.

There are several different university rankings that exist, including those for individual subjects. These rankings are often an important consideration for students looking to apply to universities, especially for international students who want to attend to those highly ranked around the world.

University of Reading’s head of corporate communications Charles Heymann defended their claim by saying that the Times Higher Education and QS World University rankings had put Reading in its top 200, which meant that “Like dozens of other UK universities in recent years, we judged this put us in the top 1 percent out of an estimated 20,000 institutions internationally.”

Nevertheless, he added, “We accept, though, the ASA’s view that this could not be proved given no league table assesses every single university worldwide.”

The QS Rankings currently place Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University and Harvard University as its top three universities respectively, followed by the University of Cambridge as the highest ranked UK institution. Times Higher Education, on the other hand, ranks the University of Oxford as its highest university, followed by the California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and University of Cambridge.

The BBC also reported that although Cambridge, Oxford, UCL and Imperial are in the top 10 of the QS Rankings, UK universities have generally seen a downward trend, with 51 of them having moved down the international rankings from last year.

Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute Nick Hillman attributed this to austerity policies. He said, “In particular, tuition fees have been frozen for five years and research funding has not grown as fast as in some other countries.”

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