Integrity in higher education marketing? A typology of misleading data-based claims in the university prospectus

John Bradley

Abstract


This paper examines misleading marketing claims in UK university prospectuses. It reviews earlier studies suggesting that the imagery and language of university marketing can be misleading. It considers the use of data and statistics by universities in their advertising – a topic not previously studied. From a sample of UK university prospectuses a typology of misleading data-based marketing claims is proposed, with nine categories: omission of facts and selective reporting; misleading wording; misleading inferences about an attribute; misleading associations between attributes; misleading endorsements; claim-fact discrepancies; falsehoods; carefully crafted comparisons, and claims without a reference point. Because choosing a university is so important to students and because universities aspire to high ethical and scholarly standards, the issues raised by these findings are significant. The two bodies empowered to address this issue in the UK do not take a proactive approach and so it must fall to universities themselves to address the ethical challenges raised by misleading marketing.

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