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    University League Tables Explained

    When choosing a UK university it’s always important to look at the factors which will keep you happy and motivated for the duration of your degree. For example, the overall ‘feel’ of a place, the university accommodation and the benefits of your course can often be the best indication that an institution’s right for you.

    We asked some recent graduates why they chose to study at their university and the popular answers included how instantly ‘at home’ they felt when visiting their university, the quality of their course and the services and career prospects open to them after graduation. Rarely anyone mentions the league tables or ranking of their university as the sole factor in their university choice

    But of course, while prospective students might not be consciously scouring the league tables, for every student a ‘good’ university with high-quality teaching and an international reputation is an essential requirement.

    The university league tables are published each year and they basically rank UK universities based on a number of factors. Oxford, Cambridge and Russell Group universities are usually within the top 50 with some of the newly established universities further down. Some universities may also choose to opt out.

    Negotiating the league tables can be complicated, with students often worrying when they see their dream university at number 70. However, while a great university with good graduate employment rates is always important, the league tables aren’t always as black and white as they might seem. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a simple guide to help you understand how the best and worst are ranked and explain the cold hard facts in a little more detail.

    How Are the Rankings Determined?

    Entry Standards

    High performing students and top universities usually go hand in hand and the universities requiring the highest grade requirements expect exceptionally talented students who will excel at their degree and face strong competition for each place.

    Including an entry level standard in the league tables is therefore quite representative of the quality of the institution, however, that isn’t to say high entrance requirements always equals the top universities.

    For example in the 2014 league table, the London School of Economics (LSE) sits above Imperial College London even though the entry requirements are lower at 541 as opposed to Imperial’s 560 scores.

    The figure is based on UCAS point scores which assign a number to each grade, for example, an A at A-Level is the equivalent of 120 points. Each student’s results are added up to give a total score and an average is calculated for all students at the university by HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency).

    Student Satisfaction

    The student satisfaction score relates to how happy current students are with the teaching at their university. This is determined by the National Student Survey which gathered the opinions of final year students in 2012.

    The maximum score for student satisfaction is 5.0, but like all aspects of the ranking process, the score shouldn’t be used as a definitive guide to universities in the UK. The score is based on student opinion so the satisfaction rating can be based on individual expectations more than the quantifiable aspects of the rankings, such as entry standards.

    Research Assessment

    The maximum score for research assessment is 4.0 and this rating is based on the average rating of research carried out at the university. This is determined by the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. Each department entered in the exercise was given a quality profile with the proportion of staff contributing to the quality profile also taken into account.

    If universities fail to give this information, then it can be estimated using HESA. Research scores may be particularly useful for students looking to study a research-based degree, for example at masters or doctorate level.

    Graduate Prospects


    Last (but certainly not least!) is ‘graduate prospects’ based on the employability of the universities graduates. This is based on the number of students with a ‘known destination’ i.e. a graduate job or postgraduate study course. Only graduate level work is counted so jobs such as shop assistant won’t be counted as a graduate role in the rankings.

    This ranking is slightly controversial as graduate employment rates are arguably largely dependant on the individual, not the institution. For example, a student from a top-ranked university with a 2.2-degree classification and a bare CV (resume) will probably be much less employable than a graduate from a 95th university with a strong degree and a CV full of work experience and activities.

    Hopefully, you’re now much more aware of those confusing statistics that determine our educational best and brightest! At New College Manchester we offer free career counselling which is especially useful for our English for university students. Our students, therefore, benefit from having our dedicated staff on hand to help answer any questions about higher education institutions.