Rankings of universities in the United Kingdom

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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 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.[1][2] All of the league tables also rank universities on their strength in individual subjects.

Each year since 2008, Times Higher Education has compiled a "Table of Tables" to combine the results of the 3 mainstream league tables. In the 2018 table, the top 5 universities were the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, University of St Andrews, Imperial College London and Durham University.[3] The top 5 universities in a 2009 ranking of British universities by national reputation were Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, LSE and St Andrews,[4] while in a companion international reputation ranking, the top 5 British universities were Cambridge, Oxford, UCL, Imperial and Manchester.[5] The top five universities in a 2015 ranking of institutes that produce the country's most employable graduates in a survey of recruiters from major UK companies in the business, IT and engineering sectors[6] were Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, Manchester and King's College London. The five universities with the highest average UCAS tariff scores for undergraduates starting in 2015–16 were Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, LSE and St Andrews.[7]

Rankings[edit]

The following rankings of British universities are produced annually:

The Complete University Guide[edit]

The Complete University Guide is compiled by Mayfield University Consultants and was published for the first time in 2007.[8]

The ranking uses ten criteria, with a statistical technique called the Z-transformation applied to the results of each.[9] The ten Z-scores are then weighted (by 1.5 for student satisfaction, 0.5 for research intensity, academic services spend and facilities spend, and 1.0 for the rest) 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 ten criteria are:[10]

  • "Academic services spend" – the expenditure per student on all academic services (data source: Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA));
  • "Degree completion" – a measure of the completion rate of students (data source: HESA);
  • "Entry standards" – the average UCAS tariff score of new students under the age of 21 (data source: HESA);
  • "Facilities spend" – the expenditure per student on staff and student facilities (data source: HESA);
  • "Good honours" – the proportion of firsts and upper seconds (data source: HESA);
  • "Graduate prospects" – a measure of the employability of graduates (data source: HESA);
  • "Research assessment" – a measure of the average quality of research (data source: 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF));
  • Research intensity – a measure of the fraction of staff who are research-active (data sources: HESA & REF);
  • "Student satisfaction" – a measure of the view of students on the teaching quality (data source: the National Student Survey); and
  • "Student:staff ratio" – a measure of the average staffing level (data source: HESA).

The most recent league table (2019) ranked the top 50 (out of 131) British universities as follows:[11]

Rank (1–10) University Rank (11–20) University Rank (21–30) University Rank (31–40) University Rank (41–50) University
1 University of Cambridge 11 University of Bath 21 University of York 31 University of Dundee =40 University of Stirling
2 University of Oxford 12 University of Exeter 22 Newcastle University 32 University of Reading 42 Nottingham Trent University
3 London School of Economics 13 University of Leeds 23 University of Edinburgh 33 University of Cardiff 43 University of Lincoln
4 Imperial College London 14 University of East Anglia 24 University of Glasgow 34 University of Leicester 44 University of Kent
5 University of St Andrews =15 University of Bristol 25 University of Sussex 35 Heriot-Watt University 45 Aston University
6 Durham University =15 University of Birmingham =26 University of Essex =36 Queen's University Belfast 46 SOAS
7 Loughborough University 17 University of Nottingham =26 King's College London =36 University of Liverpool 47 Coventry University
8 Lancaster University 18 University of Manchester =28 Royal Holloway, University of London 38 Queen Mary, University of London 48 Harper Adams University
9 University of Warwick 19 University of Surrey =28 University of Aberdeen 39 Swansea University 49 Arts University Bournemouth
10 University College London 20 University of Southampton 30 University of Sheffield =40 University of Strathclyde 50 Brunel University London

The Guardian[edit]

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.[12] 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".[1] Tables are drawn up for subjects, with the overall ranking being based on an average across the subjects rather than on institutional level statistics. The eight criteria are:[1]

  • "Entry score" (17%);
  • "Feedback" – as rated by graduates of the course (5%);
  • "Job prospects" (17%) (data source: Destination of Leavers from Higher Education);
  • "Overall quality" – final-year students opinions about the overall quality of their course (data source: the National Student Survey);
  • "Spending per student" (17%);
  • "Student/Staff ratio" (17%);
  • "Teaching quality" – as rated by graduates of the course (10%) (data source: the National Student Survey); and
  • "Value added" (17%).

The most recent league table (2018) ranked the top 50 (out of 121) British universities as follows:[13]

Rank (1–10) University Rank (11–20) University Rank (21–30) University Rank (31–40) University Rank (41–50) University
1 University of Cambridge =10 University of Surrey 21 University for the Creative Arts =30 Newcastle University =40 Royal Holloway
2 University of Oxford 12 Coventry University 22 University of Kent =32 University of Falmouth 42 University of Cardiff
3 University of St Andrews 13 University of Exeter 23 University of Glasgow =32 City University 43 University of Leicester
4 Durham University 14 University of Leeds 24 University of Dundee 34 Nottingham Trent University 44 QMUL
5 University of Bath =15 London School of Economics 25 SOAS 35 University of Southampton 45 Swansea University
=6 Imperial College London =15 University of Birmingham 26 Heriot-Watt University 36 University of Keele 46 University of Aberdeen
=6 Loughborough University 17 University of York 27 University of Bristol 37 University of Portsmouth 47 University of Lincoln
8 University of Warwick 18 University of East Anglia 28 University of Manchester 38 Queen's University, Belfast =48 University of Essex
9 Lancaster University 19 University of Nottingham 29 University of Reading 39 King's College London =48 Northumbria University
=10 University College London 20 University of Sussex =30 University of Edinburgh =40 University of Sheffield 50 Oxford Brookes University

The Times/The Sunday Times[edit]

The Times/The Sunday Times university league table, known as the Good University Guide,[14] is published in both electronic and print format and ranks institutions using the following eight criteria:[15]

  • "Student satisfaction (+50 to −55 points)" – the results of national student surveys are scored taking a theoretical minimum and maximum score of 50% and 90% respectively (data source: the National Student Survey);
  • "Teaching excellence (250)" – 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 (data source: Quality Assurance Agency; Scottish Higher Education Funding Council; Higher Education Funding Council for Wales);
  • "Heads'/peer assessments (100)" – school heads are asked to identify the highest-quality undergraduate provision (data source: The Sunday Times heads' survey and peer assessment);
  • "Research quality (200)" – based upon the most recent Research Assessment Exercise (data source: Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce));
  • "A-level/Higher points (250)" – nationally audited data for the subsequent academic year are used for league table calculations (data source: HESA);
  • "Unemployment (100)" – the number of students assume to be unemployed six months after graduation is calculated as a percentage of the total number of known desbefore completing their courses is compared with the number expected to do so (the benchmark figure shown in brackets) (data source: Hefce, Performance Indicators in Higher Education).

Other criteria considered are:

  • "Completion" – the percentage of students who manage to complete their degree;
  • "Entry standards" – the average UCAS tariff score (data source: HESA);
  • "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 (data source: HESA's survey of Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE));
  • "Library and computing spending" – the average expenditure on library and computer services per student (data source: HESA);
  • "Research" (data source: 2008 Research Assessment Exercise);
  • "Student satisfaction" (data source: National Student Survey); and
  • "Student-staff ratio" (data source: HESA).

Summary of National Rankings[edit]

The following universities rank in the top 10 in at least one of the 2018 national rankings; the table is ordered according to the Times Higher Education Table of Tables (2018):[3]

University THE Table of Tables (2018)[3] Complete (2018)[16] Guardian (2018)[13] #a
University of Cambridge 1 1 1
3c
University of Oxford 2 2 2
3c
University of St Andrews 3 3 3
3c
Imperial College London 4= 5 6=
3
Durham University 19 6 4
3
Loughborough University 6 10 6=
3
Lancaster University 7= 9 9
3
University College London 4 7 10=
3
University of Warwick 9 8 8
3
University of Bath 1 1 1
1
London School of Economics 11 9 15
1
University of Leeds 12 14 14
1
University of Surrey 14 13 10=
1

Notes:
a Number of times the university is ranked within the top 10 of one of the three national rankings.
b The university is ranked within the top 5 of all three national rankings.
c The university is ranked within the top 3 of all three national rankings.

Disparity with global rankings[edit]

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 St Andrews, Durham and LSE (in the case of LSE 3rd to 13th nationally whilst only 327th in the US News & World Report Rankings / 35th in the QS Rankings / 23rd in the THE Rankings), "inhabit surprisingly low ranks in the worldwide tables", whilst other universities such as Manchester, Edinburgh and KCL "that failed to do well in the domestic rankings have shone much brighter on the international stage".[17] 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.[18][19][20] When size is taken into account, LSE ranks second in the world out of all small to medium-sized specialist institutions (after ENS Paris) and St Andrews ranks second in the world out of all small to medium-sized fully comprehensive universities (after Brown University) using metrics from the QS Intelligence Unit in 2015.[21] 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 drop-out rates.[1][22]

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 (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) offerings, and against small, specialist, mainly non-STEM universities such as LSE.'[23]

Research by the UK's Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) in 2016 found that global rankings fundamentally measure research performance, with research-related measured accounting for over 85 percent of the weighting for both the Times Higher Education and QS rankings and 100 percent of the weighting for the ARWU ranking. HEPI also found that ARWU made no correction for the size of an institution. There were also concerns about the data quality and the reliability of reputation surveys. National rankings, while said to be "of varying validity", have more robust data and are "more highly regarded than international rankings".[24]

British universities in global rankings[edit]

The following universities rank in the top 100 of at least two global rankings:[25]

University QS World (2018)[26] THE World (2018)[27] ARWU World (2017)[28] CWTS Leiden (2018)[29] #a
University of Cambridge 4 2 3 16
4c
University of Oxford 6 1 7 13
4c
University College London 7 16 16 20
4c
Imperial College London 8 8 27 30
4b
King's College London 23= 36 46 36
4b
University of Edinburgh 23= 27= 32 46
4b
University of Manchester 34 54= 38 68
4
London School of Economics 35 25= 151–200 53
3
University of Bristol 44 76 61 47
4
University of Warwick 57 91 101–150 65
3
University of Glasgow 65 80= 101–150 60
3
Durham University 78 97 201–300 89
3

Notes:
a Number of times the university is ranked within the top 100 of one of the four global rankings.
b The university is ranked within the top 50 of all four global rankings.
c The university is ranked within the top 25 of all four global rankings.

Criticism[edit]

UK university rankings have been subjected to criticism.

Accuracy and neutrality[edit]

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".[30] He also criticised 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.[30] Further worries have been expressed regarding marketing strategies and propaganda used to chase tables undermining Universities values.[31]

The Guardian suggests that league tables may affect the nature of undergraduate admissions in an attempt to improve a university's league table position.[32]

Roger Brown, the former Vice-Chancellor of Southampton Solent University argues the limitations of comparative data when comparing Universities.[33]

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.[34]

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 (now part of UCL), was not usually listed in the undergraduate rankings despite the fact that it offered an undergraduate BEd and was generally recognised as one of the best institutions offering teacher training and Education studies (for example, being given joint first place, alongside Oxford University, in the 2008 Research Assessment 'Education' subject rankings, according to both Times Higher Education and the Guardian).[35][36]

Full-time bias[edit]

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.[37] And the 2009 student satisfaction survey placed the Open University 3rd and Birkbeck 13th out of 153 universities and higher education institutions (1st and 6th, respectively, among multi-faculty universities).[38]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]