This week’s issue of the Times Higher Education contains a six page article on “Deciphering the code” which asks “do universities’ websites tell prospective students what they need to know” and invites a panel of sixth-formers to identify the top University Web sites – and those which can be improved.

What were the best performing institutional Web sites? The top ten sites are listed in the following table – and although I an aware that the methodology is open to criticism, the table does provide an opportunity to begin a debate on what potential students may wish to find on University Web sites.

Note initially the top ten sites were listed. However as the table is an alphabetic list of the institutions with 20 points or more such an incomplete listing is misleading. The list has been updated to include all institutions scoring more than 20 points. Apologies for the confusion. [Brian Kelly, 26 August 2010].

Best-performing institutions (scoring 20 points or more) Accessibility Contact information Peer review Unique selling point Insight
University of Abertay Dundee 5 5 4 4 3
Aston University 5 5 3 2 5
Bangor University 5 5 5 1 4
University of Buckingham 4 4 4 4 4
University of Cambridge 4 4 5 3 5
Edinburgh College of Art 5 4 5 5 5
University of Exeter 3 5 5 3 5
University College Falmouth 4 4 5 5 4
University of Glasgow 4 5 4 3 5
University of Greenwich 5 5 3 4 5
Harper Adams University College 5 5 3 5 4
Imperial College London 5 5 5 4 5
King’s College London 4 4 4 4 4
Kingston University 4 5 3 3 5
University of Kent 5 3 3 5 4
Leeds Metropolitan University 5 5 1 4 5
London School of Economics 4 4 3 5 4
Northumbria University 4 4 3 4 5
University of Nottingham 5 5 3 5 5
University of Oxford 5 5 5 5 5
Royal Agricultural College 4 4 3 5 4
University of Southampton 4 5 3 5 5
Swansea University 5 4 3 4 4
Teesside University 5 5 5 4 5
University of Wales, Lampeter 5 4 5 3 3
University of Wales, Newport 5 5 3 3 5

What did the representatives of the three schools particularly like? I was interested to read the comment that I struggled to find student comments, and if I did they were always good and never bad ones” – so authentic student voices, including criticisms order drugs no prescription seems to be welcomed.

I also noticed that Imperial College are “encourag[ing] both students and staff to tag their photos of campus life and engage with prospective students through Flickr and YouTube. The Imperial site also features student blogs and “a week in the life” student profiles.

But do, I wonder, the approaches which have being adopted by those top ranking universities reflect the discussions and consensus of best practices which we hear about at IWMW events?

The article also mentions that “student discussion is unlikely to take place on the university website itself. Instead, students will meet and talk at the places where they naturally congregate online, on social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo and discussion boards such as The Student Room” and illustrates this point by describing how a student describes the Bangor University Web site as “modern” and “welcomes the clever links to the institution on social networking site Facebook“.

If the image shown below, taken from one of the top-ranked institutions, summarises where the students actually prefer to have the discussions over which institution to select what might this say about the future directions of the marketing aspects of an institution’s Web site?

Link to YouTube, iTunesU, Facebook and Twitter from a University home page

And is institutional involvement with iTunesU, YouTube, Faceboook, Twitter and Flickr now an accepted part of the portfolio of services which institutional Web team (or comms and marketing teams) will be expected to provide, support and promote? Has the “creepy tree-house” phrase which was used some time ago to criticise institutional use of Social Web services died as these services become mainstream?

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]