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Rankings of universities in the United Kingdom

Rankings of universities in the United Kingdom

Rankings of universities in the United Kingdom are published annually by The Guardian, The Independent, The Sunday Times and The Times. The primary aim of the rankings is to inform potential 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.


The Complete University Guide
The Complete University Guide is an independently published ranking produced in association with The Independent from 2008 to 2011. It was formerly known as The Good University Guide and was published for the first time in The Daily Telegraph in 2007. The ranking is compiled by Mayfield University Consultants, which previously compiled university rankings for The Times.
The ranking uses nine criteria. A statistical technique called the Z-transformation is applied to the results of each. The nine Z-scores are then weighted (by 1.5 for student satisfaction and research assessment, and 1.0 for the rest) and summed to give a total score for each university. Finally, these total scores are 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 (data source: Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA))
  • 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/quality - a measure of the average quality of research (data source: 2008 Research Assessment Exercise)
  • Student satisfaction - a measure of the view of students on the teaching quality (data source: the National Student Survey)
  • Student:staff ratio - a measure of the average staffing level (data source: HESA)
The most recent league table (2012) ranked the top 30 British universities as follows:

1University of Cambridge11University of Bristol21University of Glasgow
2University of Oxford12University of York22University of Birmingham
3Imperial College London13University of Edinburgh23University of Leicester
4London School of Economics14University of Southampton24Newcastle University
5Durham University15University of Exeter25Aston University
6University of St Andrews16King's College London26University of Sheffield
7University College London17University of Nottingham27University of East Anglia
8University of Warwick18SOAS28University of Surrey
9University of Lancaster=19Loughborough University29University of Manchester
10University of Bath=19University of Sussex30University of Liverpool

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: "Based 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 (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%)
  • Staff/student ratio (17%)
  • Teaching quality - as rated by graduates of the course (10%) (data source: the National Student Survey)
  • Value added (17%)
The most recent league table (2012) ranked the top 30 British universities as follows:

1University of Cambridge=11University of Exeter21University of Glasgow
2University of Oxford=11University of Sussex22City University London
3University of St Andrews13SOAS23University of Kent
4London School of Economics14University of Bath24University of Birmingham
5University College London15University of York25University of Bristol
6University of Warwick16University of Edinburgh26University of Dundee
7University of Lancaster17University of Leicester27Heriot-Watt University
8Durham University18University of East Anglia28University of Southampton
9Loughborough University=19University of Nottingham29University of Strathclyde
10Imperial College London=19University of Surrey30King's College London

The Sunday Times

The Sunday Times university league table ranks institutions using eight criteria:

  • Student satisfaction (+50 to -55 points) - The results of national student surveys (NSS) are scored taking a theoretical minimum and maximum score of 50% and 90% respectively (data source: the National Student Survey)
  • Teaching excellence (250) - Excellence is 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) - 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 susbsequent academic year are used for league table calculations (data source: Higher Education Statistics Agency)
  • 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 destinations (data source: HESA, Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education)
  • Firsts/2:1s awarded (100) - The percentage of students who graduate with firsts or 2:1 degrees. Unclassified degrees are excluded (data source: HESA)
  • Dropout rate (+57 to -74 points) - The number of students who drop out before 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.
The most recent league table (2012) ranked the top 30 British universities as follows:

1University of Cambridge11Loughborough University21University of Surrey
2University of Oxford12Newcastle University22University of Southampton
3Durham University13University of Sheffield23Queen Mary, University of London
4London School of Economics14Imperial College London24University of Leeds
5University of Bath=15University of Nottingham25University of Birmingham
6University of St Andrews=15University of York26Cardiff University
7University College London17King's College London27University of Edinburgh
8University of Warwick18Lancaster University28University of Leicester
9University of Exeter19University of Sussex29University of East Anglia
10University of Bristol20University of Glasgow30University of Reading

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:

The most recent league table (2012) ranked the top 30 British universities as follows:

1University of Oxford11University of York21University of Buckingham
2University of Cambridge12University of Bath22University of Glasgow
3London School of Economics13University of Bristol23SOAS
4Imperial College London14University of Sussex24King's College London
5University College London15University of Edinburgh25Newcastle University
6Durham University16University of Nottingham26University of Birmingham
6University of St Andrews17University of Sheffield27University of East Anglia
8University of Warwick17University of Leicester28Royal Holloway, University of London
9University of Lancaster19University of Southampton29University of Surrey
10University of Exeter20Loughborough University30University of Leeds

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 and Birmingham, "that failed to do well in the domestic rankings have shone much brighter on the international stage". A further example is that Scottish Universities such as Dundee and Aberdeen feature highly in international league rankings, often outranking many English institutions, but fail to rank as highly in domestic tables. 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 academic quality of a university’s intake, graduate employment, research quality and dropout rates.


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 (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).

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 (1st and 6th, respectively, among multi-faculty universities).


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External links

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