Rankings of universities in the United Kingdom

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]

Rankings

The following rankings of British universities are produced annually:

The Complete University Guide

The Complete University Guide is compiled by Mayfield University Consultants and was published for the first time in 2007.[4]

The ranking uses ten criteria, with a statistical technique called the Z-transformation applied to the results of each.[5] 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:[6]

  • "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:[7]

Rank (1–10)UniversityRank (11–20)UniversityRank (21–30)UniversityRank (31–40)UniversityRank (41–50)University
1University of Cambridge11University of Bath21University of York31University of Dundee=40University of Stirling
2University of Oxford12University of Exeter22Newcastle University32University of Reading42Nottingham Trent University
3London School of Economics13University of Leeds23University of Edinburgh33Cardiff University 43University of Lincoln
4Imperial College London14University of East Anglia24University of Glasgow34University of Leicester44University of Kent
5University of St Andrews=15University of Bristol25University of Sussex35Heriot-Watt University45Aston University
6Durham University=15University of Birmingham=26University of Essex=36Queen's University Belfast46SOAS
7Loughborough University17University of Nottingham=26King's College London=36University of Liverpool47Coventry University
8Lancaster University18University of Manchester=28Royal Holloway, University of London38Queen Mary, University of London48Harper Adams University
9University of Warwick19University of Surrey=28University of Aberdeen39Swansea University49Arts University Bournemouth
10University College London20University of Southampton30University of Sheffield=40University of Strathclyde50Brunel University London

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.[8] 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 (2019) ranked the top 50 (out of 121) British universities as follows:[9]

Rank (1–10)UniversityRank (11–20)UniversityRank (21–30)UniversityRank (31–40)UniversityRank (41–50)University
1University of Cambridge11University College London21University of Surrey=31Swansea University=41Oxford Brookes University
2University of Oxford12University of York22University of Lincoln=31University of Essex=41University of Huddersfield
3University of St Andrews13Coventry University23University of Southampton33Liverpool Hope University43Aston University
4Loughborough University14University of Exeter24University of Glasgow34University of Manchester44Staffordshire University
5Durham University15London School of Economics25University of Portsmouth35University of Kent45Aberystwyth University
6University of Bath16Nottingham Trent University26University of Sussex36University of Keele46University of Reading
7Imperial College London17University of Nottingham27Newcastle University37University of the West of England, Bristol47Bangor University
8University of Warwick18University of East Anglia28University of Edinburgh38Royal Holloway, University of London48University of Northumbria at Newcastle
9Lancaster University19University of Birmingham=29University of Derby39University of Sheffield=48Liverpool John Moores University
10University of Leeds20University of Bristol=29University of Dundee40University of Stirling50University of West London

The Times/The Sunday Times

The Times/The Sunday Times university league table, known as the Good University Guide,[10] is published in both electronic and print format and ranks institutions using the following eight criteria:[11]

  • "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

The following universities rank in the top 10 in at least one of the most recent 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 (2019)[7] Guardian (2019)[9] #a
University of Cambridge 1 1 1
3c
University of Oxford 2 2 2
3c
University of St Andrews 3 5 3
3b
Imperial College London 4= 4 7
3
Durham University 4= 6 5
3
Loughborough University 6 7 4
3
Lancaster University 7= 8 9
3
University College London 7= 10 11
2
University of Warwick 9 9 8
3
University of Bath 10 11 6
1
London School of Economics 11 3 15
1
University of Leeds 12 13 10
2

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.

The Telegraph

The telegraph publish a league table of the best value universities in Britain. This combines academic rankings with cost of living for the cost conscious to review see here - https://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/student-money/revealed-best-value-universities-britain/

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 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".[12] 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.[13][14][15] 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.[16] 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][17]

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.'[18]

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".[19]

British universities in global rankings

The following universities rank in the top 100 of at least two global rankings:[20]

University QS World (2019)[21] THE World (2018)[22] ARWU World (2018)[23] CWTS Leiden (2018)[24] #a
University of Oxford 5 1 7 13
4c
University of Cambridge 6 2 3 16
4c
Imperial College London 8 8 24 30
4b
University College London 10 16 17 20
4c
University of Edinburgh 18 27= 32 46
4b
University of Manchester 29 54= 34 68
4
King's College London 31 36 56 36
4
London School of Economics 38 25= 151–200 53
3
University of Bristol 51 76 74 47
4
University of Warwick 54 91 101–150 65
3
University of Glasgow 69 80= 151–200 60
3
Durham University 74 97 201–300 89
3
University of Birmingham 79 141 101–150 97
2
University of Leeds 93 139 101–150 91
2
University of Southampton 96 126 101–150 99
2

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

UK university rankings have been subjected to criticism.

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".[25] 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.[25] Further worries have been expressed regarding marketing strategies and propaganda used to chase tables undermining Universities values.[26]

The Guardian suggests that league tables may affect the nature of undergraduate admissions in an attempt to improve a university's league table position.[27]

Roger Brown, the former Vice-Chancellor of Southampton Solent University argues the limitations of comparative data when comparing Universities.[28]

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.[29]

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).[30][31]

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.[32] 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).[33]

References

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  2. "The University League Table methodology 2011". The Complete University Guide. Archived from the original on 24 August 2010. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
  3. 1 2 3 "THE 'Table of Tables' 2018: Glasgow makes biggest gains". Times Higher Education. 11 October 2017. Archived from the original on 12 October 2017. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
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  5. "League Table Key – Complete University Guide". Archived from the original on 18 August 2010. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  6. "Methodology". Complete University Guide. Archived from the original on 16 April 2011. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  7. 1 2 "The Complete University Guide 2019". The Complete University Guide. 25 April 2018. Archived from the original on 13 October 2013.
  8. MacLeod, Donald (1 May 2007). "What the tables mean". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 21 August 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  9. 1 2 "University guide 2018: University league table". The Guardian. London. 29 May 2018.
  10. "The Times & The Sunday Times". Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  11. "How the guide was compiled". The Times. London. 11 September 2011. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
  12. Thomas, Zoe (11 October 2009). "UK universities top the league table in Europe". The Sunday Times. London. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
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  14. "QS World University Rankings 2010". QS Quacquarelli Symonds Limited. Archived from the original on 16 September 2010. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
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  16. "QS World University Rankings: World Map Results (Filter by Institution Profile)". Quacquarelli Symonds Intelligence Unit. Archived from the original on 6 January 2016. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  17. "The University League Table methodology 2011". The Complete University Guide. Archived from the original on 24 August 2010. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
  18. Science, London School of Economics and Political. "About LSE". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  19. Bahram Bekhradnia (15 December 2016). "International university rankings: For good or ill?" (PDF). Higher Education Policy Institute. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 February 2017. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
  20. 2018, Scimetrica, www.scimetrica.com - ©. "United Kingdom - Countries - Universityrankings.ch / Institutions". www.universityrankings.ch. Archived from the original on 20 February 2018. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
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  24. "CWTS Leiden Ranking 2018 - PP top 10%". CWTS Leiden Ranking. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  25. 1 2 "Reporter 485 - 28 October 2002 - University league tables". reporter.leeds.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  26. McNamara, Adam. "BULL: A new form of propaganda in the digital age". Archived from the original on 17 December 2015. Retrieved 6 August 2015.
  27. MacLeod, Donald (19 April 2007). "Funding council to investigate university league tables". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 21 July 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  28. Brown, Roger (10 April 2007). "Tables can turn". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 21 July 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  29. Alderman, Geoffrey (24 April 2007). "League tables rule – and standards inevitably fall". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 21 July 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
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  31. "RAE 2008: education results". the Guardian. 18 December 2008. Archived from the original on 10 May 2017. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  32. "Times Higher Education RAE 2008 tables" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 20 August 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  33. "Student survey results 2009". 6 August 2009. Archived from the original on 13 March 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2018 via news.bbc.co.uk.
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