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 andFinancial Times. UK Universities also rank highly in global university rankings with 8 UK Universities ranking in the top 100 of the three major global rankings - QS World University Rankings , Times Higher Education World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities .

Contents

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 2022 table, the top 5 universities were the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge the University of St Andrews, the London School of Economics and Imperial College. [3]

Rankings

UK Universities in Global Rankings

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

University QS (2023) [4] ARWU (2022) [5] THE (2022) [6] #a
University of Cambridge 235=
3b
University of Oxford 471
3b
Imperial College London 6=2312
3b
University College London 81818=
3b
University of Edinburgh 153530=
3c
University of Manchester 283850
3
King's College London 374835=
3c
London School of Economics 56151–20027
2
University of Bristol 61=8192
3
University of Warwick 64101–15078=
2
University of Glasgow 81151–20086=
2

Notes:
a Number of times the university is ranked within the top 100 of one of the three global rankings.
b The university is ranked within the top 25 of all three global rankings.
c The university is ranked within the top 50 of all three global 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. [7]

The ranking uses ten criteria, with a statistical technique called the Z-score applied to the results of each. [8] The ten Z-scores are then weighted (as given below) 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: [9]

The most recent league table (2023) ranked the top 50 (out of 130) British universities as follows: [10]

Rank (1–10)UniversityRank (11–20)UniversityRank (21–30)UniversityRank (31–40)UniversityRank (41–50)University
1 University of Oxford 11 Lancaster University 21 University of Liverpool 31 University of Reading 41 University of Sussex
2 University of Cambridge 12 University of Edinburgh 22 King's College London 32 University of Strathclyde 42 Swansea University
3 London School of Economics 13 University of Southampton 23 University of Glasgow 33 Royal Holloway, University of London 43 Northumbria University
4 University of St Andrews 14 University of Birmingham 24 Queen's University Belfast 34 Heriot-Watt University 44 Ulster University
5 Imperial College London 15 University of Bristol 25 University of Nottingham 35 Queen Mary University of London 45 Oxford Brookes University
6 Durham University 16 University of Leeds 26 Cardiff University 36 Newcastle University 46 SOAS University of London
7 Loughborough University 17 University of Manchester 27 University of East Anglia 37 University of Aberdeen 47 University of Kent
8 University of Bath 18 University of Surrey 28 University of Sheffield 38 University of the Arts London 48 Aston University
9 University College London 19= University of York 29= Harper Adams University 39 University of Essex 49 University of Dundee
10 University of Warwick 19= University of Exeter 29= University of Leicester 40 City, University of London 50 University of Stirling

The Guardian

The Guardian's ranking uses nine different criteria, each weighted between 5 and 15 per cent. Unlike other annual rankings of British universities, the criteria do not include a measure of research output. [11] 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 nine criteria are: [12]

The most recent league table (2022) ranked the top 50 (out of 121) British universities as follows: [13]

Rank (1–10)UniversityRank (11–20)UniversityRank (21–30)UniversityRank (31–40)UniversityRank (41–50)University
1 University of Oxford 11 University of Glasgow 21 University of Chichester 31 University of Dundee 41= Northumbria University
2 University of Cambridge 12 University of Edinburgh 22 Royal Holloway, University of London 32 University for the Creative Arts 41= University of East Anglia
3 University of St Andrews 13 Lancaster University 23 King's College London 33 Queen's University Belfast 41= University of Plymouth
4 London School of Economics 14 University of Bristol 24 Swansea University 34 University of Lincoln 44 University of Sussex
5 Durham University 15 University of Exeter 25 Aston University 35 University of West London 45 Kingston University
6 University of Warwick 16 University of Leeds 26 University of the Arts London 36= Heriot-Watt University 46= University of Bolton
7 Imperial College London 17 University of Southampton 27 University of Sheffield 36= University of the West of England, Bristol 46= Oxford Brookes University
8 University of Bath 18= University of Strathclyde 28 University of Manchester 38= Coventry University 48 Keele University
9 University College London 18= University of York 29 University of Birmingham 38= Cardiff University 49 University of Stirling
10 Loughborough University 20 University of Aberdeen 30 University of Leicester 40 University of Liverpool 50 University of Kent

The Times/The Sunday Times

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]

Other criteria considered are:

The most recent league table (2021) ranked the top 50 (out of 131) British universities as follows: [16]

Rank (1–10)UniversityRank (11–20)UniversityRank (21–30)UniversityRank (31–40)UniversityRank (41–50)University
1 University of St Andrews 11 Lancaster University 21 University of Exeter 30= University of Liverpool 41 University of Stirling
2 University of Oxford 12 University of Glasgow 22 University of Sheffield 32 University of Surrey 42 Newcastle University
3 University of Cambridge 13 University of Edinburgh 23 University of Manchester 33 SOAS University of London 43 University of Essex
4 Imperial College London 14 University of Bristol 24 Queen's University Belfast 34 University of Reading 44 Ulster University
5 London School of Economics 15 University of Leeds 25 University of Birmingham 35= Cardiff University 45 Aston University
6 Durham University 16 University of Southampton 26 Royal Holloway, University of London 35= University of Dundee 46 University of Kent
7 University College London 17 University of Strathclyde 27 University of East Anglia 37 University of Leicester 47 University of Sussex
8 University of Warwick 18 King's College London 28 University of Nottingham 38 Aberystwyth University 48 Keele University
9 University of Bath 19 University of York 29 Harper Adams University 39 Swansea University 49 University of Lincoln
10 Loughborough University 20 University of Aberdeen 30= Heriot-Watt University 40 Queen Mary University of London 50 University of Chichester

Summary of national rankings

The following universities rank in the top 10 in at least one of the most recent national rankings (the three discussed above: the Complete, Guardian and Times/Sunday Times). The table is ordered according to the Times Higher Education Table of Tables (2022), based on average rank in the tables for that year. [3] The last column gives the number of league tables (not including the Table of Tables) which include that university in their top ten.

UniversityTHE Table of Tables (2022) [3] Complete (2022) [10] Guardian (2022) [13] Times/Sunday Times (2022) [16] #a
University of Oxford 1112
3b
University of Cambridge 2223
3b
University of St Andrews 3431
3c
London School of Economics 4345
3c
Imperial College London 5574
3
Durham University 6656
3
University of Warwick 7968
3
University College London 8897
3
University of Bath 9=1089
3
Loughborough University 9=71010
3

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 3 of all three national rankings.
c The university is ranked within the top 5 of all three national rankings.

Criticism

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 U.S. 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 measures 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]

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, highlights perceived limitations in comparative data between Universities. [28]

Writing in The Guardian, Professor Geoffrey Alderman makes the point that including the percentage of 'good honours' 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] 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] In 2018, Birkbeck announced that it will withdraw from UK university rankings because their methodologies unfairly penalise it, since "despite having highly-rated teaching and research, other factors caused by its unique teaching model and unrelated to its performance push it significantly down the ratings". [34]

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