Rankings of universities in the United Kingdom

Rankings of universities in the United Kingdom

August 15, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


Three national rankings of universities in
the United Kingdom are published annually – by The Complete University Guide, The
Guardian and jointly by The Times and The Sunday Times. Rankings have also been produced in the past
by The Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times. The primary aim of the rankings is to inform
potential undergraduate applicants about UK universities based on a range of criteria,
including entry standards, student satisfaction, staff/student ratio, academic services and
facilities expenditure per student, research quality, proportion of Firsts and 2:1s, completion
rates and student destinations. All of the league tables also rank universities
on their strength in individual subjects. Rankings
The following rankings of British universities are produced annually:
The Complete University Guide The Complete University Guide is compiled
by Mayfield University Consultants. It was published for the first time in The
Daily Telegraph in 2007, when it was known as The Good University Guide, and was produced
in association with The Independent from 2008 to 2011. The ranking uses nine criteria, with a statistical
technique called the Z-transformation applied to the results of each. The nine Z-scores are then weighted and summed
to give a total score for each university. These total scores are then transformed to
a scale where the top score is set at 1,000, with the remainder being a proportion of the
top score. The nine criteria are:
“Academic services spend” – the expenditure per student on all academic services);
“Completion” – a measure of the completion rate of students;
“Entry standards” – the average UCAS tariff score of new students under the age of 21;
“Facilities spend” – the expenditure per student on staff and student facilities;
“Good honours” – the proportion of firsts and upper seconds;
“Graduate prospects” – a measure of the employability of graduates;
“Research assessment/quality” – a measure of the average quality of research;
“Student satisfaction” – a measure of the view of students on the teaching quality;
and “Student:staff ratio” – a measure of the
average staffing level. The most recent league table ranked the top
30 British universities as follows: The Guardian
The Guardian’s ranking uses eight different criteria, each weighted between 5 and 17 per
cent. Unlike other annual rankings of British universities,
the criteria do not include a measure of research output. A “value-added” factor is included which compares
students’ degree results with their entry qualifications, described by the newspaper
as being “[b]ased upon a sophisticated indexing methodology that tracks students from enrolment
to graduation, qualifications upon entry are compared with the award that a student receives
at the end of their studies”. The eight criteria are:
“Entry score”; “Feedback” – as rated by graduates of the
course; “Job prospects”;
“Overall quality” – final-year students opinions about the overall quality of their
course; “Spending per student”;
“Staff/student ratio”; “Teaching quality” – as rated by graduates
of the course; and “Value added”. The most recent league table ranked the top
30 British universities as follows: The Sunday Times
The Sunday Times university league table ranks institutions using the following eight criteria:
“Student satisfaction” – the results of national student surveys are scored taking
a theoretical minimum and maximum score of 50% and 90% respectively;
“Teaching excellence” – defined as: subjects scoring at least 22/24 points, those ranked
excellent, or those undertaken more recently in which there is confidence in academic standards
and in which teaching and learning, student progression and learning resources have all
been ranked commendable; “Heads’/peer assessments” – school heads
are asked to identify the highest-quality undergraduate provision;
“Research quality” – based upon the most recent Research Assessment Exercise);
“A-level/Higher points” – nationally audited data for the susbsequent academic year are
used for league table calculations; “Unemployment” – the number of students
assume to be unemployed six months after graduation is calculated as a percentage of the total
number of known destinations; “Firsts/2:1s awarded” – the percentage of
students who graduate with firsts or 2:1 degrees; unclassified degrees are excluded; and
“Dropout rate” – the number of students who drop out before completing their courses
is compared with the number expected to do so. The Times
The Times university rankings take into account eight criteria. The Student Satisfaction and Research criteria
are weighted by 1.5 and then each of the eight criteria scores are multiplied by 10 in order
to give each university a final score out of 1,000. The criteria are:
“Completion” – the percentage of students who manage to complete their degree;
“Entry standards” – the average UCAS tariff score;
“Facilities spending” – the average expenditure per student on sports, careers services, health
and counselling; “Good honours” – the percentage of students
graduating with a first or 2.1; “Graduate prospects” – the percentage of
UK graduates in graduate employment or further study);
“Library and computing spending” – the average expenditure on library and computer services
per student; “Research”;
“Student satisfaction”; and “Student-staff ratio”. Disparity with global rankings
It has been commented by The Sunday Times that a number of universities which regularly
feature in the top ten of British university league tables, such as Durham, St Andrews
and LSE, “inhabit surprisingly low ranks in the worldwide tables”, whilst other universities
such as Manchester “that failed to do well in the domestic rankings have shone much brighter
on the international stage”. The considerable disparity in rankings has
been attributed to the different methodology and purpose of global university rankings
such as the Academic Ranking of World Universities, QS World University Rankings and Times Higher
Education World University Rankings. International university rankings primarily
use criteria such as academic and employer surveys, the number of citations per faculty,
the proportion of international staff and students and faculty and alumni prize winners. The national rankings, on the other hand,
give most weighting to the undergraduate student experience, taking account of teaching quality
and learning resources, together with the quality of a university’s intake, employment
prospects, research quality and dropout rates. The disparity between national and international
league tables has caused some institutions to offer public explanations for the difference. LSE for example states on its website that
‘we remain concerned that all of the global rankings – by some way the most important
for us, given our highly international orientation – suffer from inbuilt biases in favour of
large multi-faculty universities with full STEM offerings, and against small, specialist,
mainly non-STEM universities such as LSE.’ Criticisms
UK university rankings have been subject to various criticisms. Accuracy and neutrality
There has been criticism of attempts to combine different rankings on for example research
quality, quality of teaching, drop out rates and student satisfaction. Sir Alan Wilson, former Vice Chancellor of
the University of Leeds argues that the final average has little significance and is like
trying to ‘combine apples and oranges.’ Other criticisms he made included the varying
weights given to different factors, the need for universities to ‘chase’ the rankings,
the often fluctuating nature of a university’s ranking, and the catch-22 that the government’s
desire to increase access can have negative effects on league table rankings. The Guardian suggests that league tables may
affect the nature of undergraduate admissions in an attempt to improve a university’s league
table position. Roger Brown, the former Vice Chancellor of
Southampton Solent University argues the limitations of comparative data when comparing Universities. Professor Geoffrey Alderman writing in the
Guardian makes the point that by including the percentage of ‘good honours’ this can
encourage grade inflation so that league table position can be maintained. The rankings are also criticised for not giving
a full picture of higher education in the United Kingdom. There are institutions which focus on research
and enjoy a prestigious reputation but are not shown in the table for various reasons. For example, the Institute of Education, University
of London, is not usually listed in the undergraduate rankings despite the fact that it offers an
undergraduate B.Ed and is generally recognised as one of the best institutions offering teacher
training and Education studies. Full-time bias
League Tables, which usually focus on the full-time undergraduate student experience,
commonly omit reference to Birkbeck, University of London, and the Open University, both of
which specialise in teaching part-time students. These universities, however, often make a
strong showing in specialist league tables looking at research, teaching quality, and
student satisfaction. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise,
according to the Times Higher Education, Birkbeck was placed equal 33rd, and the Open University
43rd, out of 132 institutions. And the 2009 student satisfaction survey placed
the Open University 3rd and Birkbeck 13th out of 153 universities and higher education
institutions. References External links
The Complete University Guide University League Tables
Guardian University Guide The Sunday Times University Guide