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British university league tables

10.01.2013

Checking out the university league tables has become a well established students’ (and parents’) ritual. But how useful are they when it comes down to choosing a course?

You should use league table rankings as one of, rather than the source of information with which to research universities. Universities at the top of the league tables are obviously doing something right. Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Imperial, Bristol, University College London, London School of Economics perform well year to year. A university that’s leapt up or dropped down the tables, on the other hand, could warrant a more careful look. All the rankings include:

Student satisfaction scores: a helpful indicator of how students rate elements of their university experience.

Student to staff ratio: another factor used across the league tables. A helpful estimation of how much a university invests in its staffing, but won’t tell you how many hours of teaching you’ll get – or who it is teaching you.

Graduate prospects: these numbers give you a snapshot of what graduates go on to do next, but they’re only collected six months after leaving uni.

Entry grades: these can have a major impact on subject rankings, but you could argue that how well students do while at university is more important than what students came in with. The total UCAS tariff points students achieve are usually higher than the actual entry requirements you need to get on to a course. Always refer to entry requirements listed on UCAS (and on Which? University course pages).

League tables: what to look for

Objective versus subjective: know where the data’s coming from. Statistics collected by outside agencies should be more neutral, while student feedback might be influenced by all kinds of external issues and by personal feelings.

Indicators, not definitive info: not all categories are updated every year. Assessments to evaluate a university’s research quality may be several years old. Even annual surveys won’t always mirror the most recent changes: because of publication dates, the information could be fresh rather than brand-new.

What’s missing: the Guardian’s league table, for instance, relies heavily on the student experience while The Times leans more towards facts and figures. That means some complex cross-referencing may be required to get a fuller picture.

University overall versus subject: along with an overall university ranking, you’ll also find ratings for different subject areas – e.g. art and design. These can be a more useful assessment of what you’re likely to encounter on the ground.

Ultimately, choosing the right course is for you is the most important task at hand. Decide on your priorities. Create your own shortlist of courses and universities based on these priorities and use the league tables to sense check what you’ve got on your priority list.

 

Based on the article "What do university league tables really tell you?"



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