University adverts will be required to include information on dropout rates and the proportion of students who go on to graduate jobs or further study under new guidance published on Friday.
Michelle Donelan, the higher and further education minister, said that bold university advertising often “promises students a high-quality experience even when the statistics suggest they will be stuck on a dead-end course.”
She said the new guidance would give students clarity about what universities are offering them, especially for pupils who are the “first-in-family” to do a degree.
The guidance would apply to all forms of advertising, and the information should be “noticeable”, including the opening lines of an online advert or quoted in a TV or radio advert.
'Really important that transparency is there'
The Government said that the latest data showed fewer than six in 10 students would make the same choice of university or course if they could make the decision again.
Ministers will consider tougher measures if universities choose not to comply with the guidance.
Ms Donelan said: “This is about giving students the information to make informed choices, and two of the key things that students always say to me is that they expect to get the support to be able to stand a really good chance to complete their degree and get that qualification, and secondly that they expect that degree will get them somewhere that they wouldn’t have got without it.
“That’s why it’s really important that the transparency is there and that the information is there so that students can see that.”
Ms Donelan said that the criticism of Sheffield Hallam University’s scrapping of its English literature course had nothing to do with a government crackdown on low-quality courses.
“I don’t think there is a great deal of concern about arts and humanities [courses] that’s founded on any kind of actual credible reasoning. I myself am a history and politics student and a massive fan of the humanities and the arts, and we know the value that the arts plays for our economy as well as people’s lives and culture,” she said.
Sheffield Hallam’s English course had strong progression rates for its students and would have not met the criteria for the crackdown on “low value” courses, she said.
A spokesman for Universities UK said: “We share the Government’s ambition of raising transparency to support effective information, advice and guidance. It will be important that the Government continues to test this voluntary guidance with applicants, as well as with teachers and advisers.
“For university marketers to adopt this approach across all their publicity materials, they will want to know that it is clearly understood and valued by applicants and positively informing student choice.”