University Rankings: United Kingdom

On this page:

   • Quality Assessments by Government-Funded Agencies
Research Assessment Exercise
Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education
HEFCE Performance Indicators
   • Teaching Quality Information
   • Media ‘League Tables’
• The Times Good University Guide
The Sunday Times
The Guardian
Financial Times
The Daily Telegraph (aggregate of all newspaper rankings)
The Push Guide (The Independent)
Sutton Trust 13


Commonly referred to as league tables, university rankings in Britain are produced not only by an increasing number of commercial publications but also by a number of government bodies which include funding councils and quality assurance agencies.

Commercially produced league tables were first published in Britain by The Times of London in the early 1990s. The increasing popularity and commercial success of these rankings has resulted in many other publications following the Times’ lead. In recent years newspapers such as The Guardian, The Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph have all begun publishing their own annual university league tables. In the business world an even greater number of publications produce business school and MBA rankings, normally comparing programs and institutions against their European or global peers. Among the more prestigious British publications now producing business school rankings are The Economist and The Financial Times.

In addition to offering overall institution rankings, the Times and Guardian league tables also rank universities by discipline and department. The Daily Telegraph league table is essentially an average of all newspaper-produced institution-wide league tables. It should be noted, however, that high rankings in institutional league tables do not indicate excellence in any particular field, and some universities with a very good reputation for specific subjects never enter overall top tens.

Government-funded initiatives to distinguish varying levels of institutional academic quality generally tend to focus more on individual departments and subject areas, with informed advice for the consumer as the main goal. In terms of the periodic Research Assessment Exercise, the primary consumers are the regional funding bodies, but the findings also provide invaluable information for others seeking information on research standards at academic departments across the United Kingdom. Geared more toward students are initiatives from the Quality Assurance Agency and the Teaching Quality Initiative, which both provide access to useful department-specific information on teaching quality.

Quality Assessments by Government-Funded Agencies

The Higher Education Funding Council Research Assessment Exercise (RAE)

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) conducts a periodic assessment of teaching and research at British universities and colleges on behalf of the regional funding councils in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The results of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) are used to help inform funding councils as to the allocation of quality-weighted research funding. Simply put, institutions deemed to be conducting the best research receive a larger proportion of available funding in order that the infrastructure for top-level research in the UK continues to progress.

The last assessment was conducted in 2001 and the distribution of approximately 5 billion pounds of research funding was tied to the results. The next RAE is scheduled for 2008 and previous ones took place in 1986, 1989, 1992 and 1996. The five institutions with the highest overall RAE ratings in 2001 were: Cambridge, the London School of Economics, Oxford, Imperial College and the University of Nottingham. In its current format, the 2008 RAE will be the last.

Methodology

All publicly funded institutions of higher education in the UK are invited by the RAE to submit information about their research activity for assessment. Peer-review panels for each discipline then assess the submitted research portfolios, and quality ratings are awarded for all subjects in which research is submitted. A total of 900 UK academics and 50 overseas scholars will be employed as members of review panels for the 2008 RAE. Detailed information regarding criteria employed by the assessment panels is publicly available from the Higher Education & Research Opportunities (HERO) website.

Panels use a standard scale to award a rating for each submission. Ratings range from 1 to 5*, according to how much of the work is judged to reach national or international levels of excellence. Scores of 5 are considered to be partly of international excellence, while a score of 5* is considered to be totally so. The outcomes are published and so provide public information on the quality of research in universities and colleges throughout the UK. Although the information is primarily collected for the purposes of funding, it also provides useful insights to the relative quality and standing of academic research at UK institutions across all 69 disciplines that are assessed. In addition, the RAE provides benchmarks designed to help institutions develop and manage research strategies. According to these benchmarks, research across the UK improved considerably through the 1990s.

The 2008 RAE will be the last to employ peer-review panels and the submission of detailed research reports from institutions, a process that is considered by many to be too time consuming. Subsequent reviews and funding allocations will rely to a greater degree on statistical data such as grant income and contracts. The 2008 exercise will include a shadow metrics element to gauge the degree to which statistics match peer review by experts in each field.

Results

For the 2001 RAE more than half of the academics who submitted their research for assessment were judged to be working in departments rated 5 or 5*. The findings of the 2001 assessment can be searched by institutions or by discipline from the HERO website: www.hero.ac.uk/rae/Results/. [Editor’s note: The website does no longer exist as of 2010]

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (academic review): www.qaa.ac.uk/reviews/default.asp

Funded through subscriptions from institutions of higher education and the main funding agencies, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) for Higher Education is responsible for monitoring quality standards at the tertiary level. This is achieved in part by defining academic standards and then reviewing academic quality at institutions as measured against those standards. Academic standards for higher education qualifications are outlined in two qualification frameworks: one for England, Wales and Northern Ireland; and one for Scotland, which is part of a wider Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework. Subject benchmark statements set out expectations about the standards of degrees in a range of subject areas.

Institutional and program audits and reviews are conducted on a rolling basis by the QAA from which reports are published and disseminated. Reports offering qualitative assessments, searchable by institution and subject, are available from the QAA website: www.qaa.ac.uk/reviews/default.asp.

HEFCE Performance Indicators

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) offers a collection of reports from regional funding councils detailing such indicators as social inclusion, drop-out rates, post-qualification employment and research output www.hefce.ac.uk/learning/perfind/default.asp.  

Teaching Quality Information (TQI)

As described on its website, the Teaching Quality Information (TQI) “is an on-line resource that gives easy access to official information about the quality of Higher Education (HE) in the UK.” The site is designed to give prospective higher education students the necessary qualitative information needed to make informed decisions about what and where they want to study. The recent publication of this information (September 2005) has come as a direct result of an effort to provide more useful information to applicants and others on academic quality at institutions across the UK.

Users of the site can search for official information and reports that have been published on a particular program at the institution of their choice across 41 different subject areas. After inputting a subject area and institution, users will be provided with links to reports, a series of statistical information relating to the program at both the undergraduate and graduate level, in addition to the results of a national student survey that ranks student satisfaction across a number of indicators on a scale of one to five.

The statistical information on the site is also made available in a spreadsheet format. In this format users can survey all available information for a particular institution without having to cross-reference it with a particular subject area.

TQI Statistics

The site provides the most recent data available for tertiary students in each subject taught by each institution. The data is collected by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and includes information on average student entry requirements, information on the number of students continuing their studies and, with the exception of Scotland, information on the numbers of students graduating and with what type of award.
Information is also provided on the kind of employment or further study students go on to. This includes the numbers of students employed in graduate and non-graduate jobs and their most common job types. This information is taken from a nation-wide survey, known as the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey, which is conducted every year approximately six months after graduation

National Student Survey

In 2005, approximately 170,000 students responded a survey which was sent out to a sample of some 350,000 students near the end of their studies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Students were asked their views on the quality of the education they had received. These results are made available by department and rate the department on a scale of one to five across seven criteria: teaching, assessment and feedback, academic support, organization and management, learning resources, personal development, overall satisfaction with the quality of the course. Results are available through the TQI website.

Media ‘League Tables’

Among the media outlets publishing university rankings are The Guardian, The Times Higher Education Supplement, The Daily Telegraph (last one in 2003) and The Sunday Times.

The Times Good University Guide <www.timesonline.co.uk/section/0,,716,00.html>

The pioneer in ranking British universities first published in the early 1990s The Times Good University Guide ranks institutions on an overall ordinal scale and also across 60 different subjects.

Methodology

Employing a traditional weight-and-add approach, the Times league table assesses quality across nine criteria: teaching, research, entry standards, student-staff ratio, library/technology spending, spending on facilities, degree classifications, graduate destinations, and efficiency. Student satisfaction and research were weighted at 1.5 in relation to all other criteria, which are weighted equally. Data is largely taken from official sources such as the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

All indicators are aggregated to produce a final result for each university, which is computed against a scale that sets the top score at 1000, the remainder being a proportion of that score.

  • Student satisfaction is taken from the National Student Survey conducted by the TQI (see above).
  • Research assessment is an aggregate of faculty research quality. Data is taken from the Research Assessment Exercise, last conducted in 2001 (see above).
  • Entry standards is an average of student scores (under age 21) on A levels as measured by the University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) and published by the HESA in 2003/04.
  • Student-staff ratio is the average number of students per staff member as measured and published by HESA for 2003/04.
  • Library/computing spending from HESA data between 2001 and 2004.
  • Facilities – average spending per student on facilities. Taken from HESA data between 2001 and 2004.
  • Degree classification is the percentage of graduates achieving a first- or upper-second-class degree, from HESA data for 2003-04.
  • Graduate destinations measures the percentage of a university’s UK graduates in employment that normally requires a degree or further study, from HESA data for 2003-04.
  • Efficiency is the percentage of students at each university who are expected to graduate, including those who transfer to other institutions to complete courses, mainly from HESA data for 2003/04 and earlier years.

Results

The top 20 institutions in the 2007 ranking

Institution

Satis

Res

Ent

Ratio

Lib

Facs

Degs

Grads

Eff

Total

1 Oxford

6.5

511.7

13

1656

364

88.4

74.8

97.7

1000

2 Cambridge

6.6

525.1

11.9

1129

425

84.6

86.9

98.9

973

3 Imperial

14.4

6.4

468.2

9.4

1230

481

75

83.8

96

878

4 LSE

15.1

6.4

466.9

13.4

1106

186

74.4

81.5

95.5

855

5 UCL

15.3

6

410.8

8.4

1152

172

73.6

78.1

93.4

819

6Loughborough

16.1

5.1

362.5

18.5

667

355

64.7

70.7

92.5

795

7 Bristol

15.2

5.7

405.9

14.4

768

272

80.8

79.8

95.5

792

8 Warwick

6

447.6

16.4

853

203

78.2

70.2

94.9

791

9 Bath

15

5.7

403.4

17.3

597

417

75.2

79.8

96.1

786

10 Durham

15.4

5.7

454.9

21.2

747

326

74.6

72.4

95.1

778

11 Edinburugh

5.6

414.8

14.2

890

233

77.7

70.7

91.9

774

12 Royal Holloway

15.5

5.7

345.3

14.1

549

311

66.5

67.3

93.8

761

13 Aston

14.9

5

328.3

15

921

356

69.4

76

90.9

758

14 Nottingham

14.9

5.3

429.1

16.2

799

332

75.3

71

92.2

754

15 York

15.5

5.8

435.9

15.8

653

199

69.9

66

95.1

750

16 Cardiff

15.2

5.4

371.1

13

758

238

68.6

73.5

94.8

740

17 King’s Col. London

15.1

5.5

393.7

12

954

156

70.7

81.1

92.9

733

18 Leicester

15.7

5

351.9

17.1

570

395

64.3

66.2

95.6

732

18 SOAS

14.6

5.5

328.6

9.8

1143

175

75.9

74.5

87.4

732

18 St Andrews

5.7

430.5

14.3

587

200

75.1

65.7

97.6

732

* Institution provided own data
** Data used from previous year For the third year running, London Metropolitan refused to allow the release of data, and so it does not appear in this table
Source: The Times of London

Subject rankings are available at www.timesonline.co.uk/section/0,,6734,00.html

The Sunday Times
<www.timesonline.co.uk/section/0,,8403,00.html>

Methodology

In addition to the Good Universities Guide, The Times newspaper group also publishes a league table in its Sunday edition. The Sunday Times league table measures each university against eight criteria: Teaching satisfaction, head teacher assessment, average student enrty scores, research efficiency (competitive research funding per full-time equivalent staff), post-graduation employmetpercentage, the percentage of highest-quality (firsts and 2:1s) degrees, student-staff ratio, completion rate.

The Sunday Times also provides separate rankings for, among other criteria, sports facilities and accommodation.

Results

Inst

Teach

Heads

Ent

Res

Job

Degs

Ratio

Comp

Total

Cambridge

183

46

185

250

80

84

84

12

924

Oxford

170

41

178

250

65

89

77

7

877

Imperial

159

35

167

232

79

75

100

2

849

LSE

174

28

179

230

80

75

75

7

848

UCL

164

22

156

202

74

75

100

4

797

Warwick

155

24

161

223

60

78

61

10

772

York

186

21

158

215

49

70

63

7

769

Bristol

148

31

148

199

75

81

69

3

754

Durham

153

24

149

223

62

75

47

16

749

Bath

146

29

148

199

77

75

58

16

748

Nottingham

156

23

142

212

63

76

62

12

746

Edinburgh

145

22

143

209

65

78

70

10

742

King’s College London

152

25

134

194

79

71

83

2

740

St Andrews

146

10

152

214

49

70

70

25

736

Loughborough

200

13

123

180

66

65

54

24

725

East Anglia

166

10

143

234

49

67

59

-5

723

Southampton

149

13

154

194

64

69

63

16

722

Manchester

148

20

145

194

59

70

70

4

710

Cardiff

153

13

128

183

68

68

77

18

708

Sussex

140

6

147

180

47

72

83

16

691

Teach: Teaching satisfaction; Heads: head teacher assessment; Ent: average student enrty scores; Res: research efficiency (competitive research funding per full-time equivalent staff); Job: post-graduation employmetpercentage; Degs: the percentage of highest-quality (firsts and 2:1s) degrees; Ratio: student-staff ratio; Comp: completion rate.
Source: The Sunday Times

The Guardian

Compiled in collaboration with Campus Pi, an applied research department at Brunel University, the Guardian’s annual ranking is based largely on official information published on universities and colleges from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). Universities are ranked by subject grouping and on an institution-wide basis, with results derived from the subject-specific rankings.

Although much of the Guardian data comes from the same sources as other rankings and focuses on similar indicators, the newspaper argues that its tables are different from others in that it has a stronger emphasis on teaching.

Methodology

Departments are assessed on seven criteria, each weighted differently according to their assumed relative importance:

· Saff score (15%) – based on the qualifications of the teaching staff in each subject
· Entry requirements (20%)
· Spend per student (10%)
· Student/staff ratio (20%)
· Value-added score (10%) – grades in versus grades out
· Student destinations (17%)
· Inclusiveness (8%) – ethnic minority, disabled and mature students

Although an absolute score is applied to each category, the scores are filtered into bands which are marked out of six or 10 and used to maintain the relative value of the indicators in different subjects. Ten bands are applied to indicators where the absolute values are expected to be more widely dispersed and 6 bands to the others. The idea is to produce an overall institution ranking that is not affected by the concentration of subjects taught by different institutions.

From the band weightings the data is aggregated to produce a final score representing the sum of all the indicators. Research is not taken into consideration as the Guardian rankings are focused at the undergraduate level and overall teaching performance.
League tables are offered by discipline and also by institution. The institutional scores are calculated as the average of all subject-level scores, weighted by the number of students (as a proportion of the university’s total number).

Tariff Bands

In an effort to help students choose the best departments possible for their particular field of interest and individual academic capabilities, the Guardian allows users to search institutions according to the average admissions offer they make to prospective students. For example, a student who is expecting to achieve three ‘B’ grades in his/her A levels (a UCAS admissions points score of 300) would then search for the best departments (according to Guardian ranking methodology) that historically have made offers that average out within the Guardian’s tariff band 4 (240-319).

Results

The Guardian’s Top 20

Rank
University
Score
1
Cambridge
81.39
2
Oxford
81.27
3
London School of Economics
81.04
4
University College London
77.46
5
Imperial College
77.03
6
SOAS
76.47
7
King’s College London
74.19
8
Warwick
73.20
9
Bath
73.01
10
Edinburgh
71.81
11
Nottingham
71.44
12
Surrey
70.89
13
Bristol
70.84
14
Manchester
70.65
15
York
70.35
16
Birmingham
69.78
17
Leeds
69.63
18
Goldsmiths
69.58
19
Aston
69.56
20
Royal Holloway and Bedford New College
69.54

Financial Times

University Ranking

The last Financial Times university ranking, published in 2003, used 17 different criteria weighted according to their perceived relative importance. The most important data were teaching, research and the proportion of first-class degrees awarded. Other measures included average A-level entry scores, graduate employment record and expenditure per student on computers and libraries. The 2003 results can be viewed in the table below in the Daily Telegraph average of the newspaper rankings.

Business School Rankings

Financial Times <www.ft.com/businesseducation/mba>

The Financial Times offers a raft of tables and tools for those seeking out a business education. Most of the tables are interactive and can be manipulated by the user to best fit his or her needs. These include rankings of global MBA programs, global executive MBA programs (EMBA), European master’s in management programs, European business schools, global executive education programs (customized and open enrollment), and distance learning business programs (ranked by total enrollment).

The Daily Telegraph

Last published in 2003, the Daily Telegraph ranking is based on an average of the rankings of five newspapers (Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, The Guardian, Sunday Times and The Times) and a survey of over 200 graduate recruiters from the publication From Learning to Earning. The Daily Telegraph’s sole criterion is teaching quality, as measured by the proportion of departments rated excellent or awarded at least 22 points out of 24 by the Quality Assurance Agency. The methodologies employed by the other four newspapers’ rankings are outlined above.

Results

Daily Telegraph 2003 Average of the Rankings

Institution

DT

FT

Guardian

S. Times

Times

Employers

1 Cambridge

1

1

1

1

2

1

2 Oxford

4

2

2

2

1

3

3 Imperial

5

3

7

4

3

6

4 LSE

3

4

3

3

4

23

5 Warwick

9

6

9

5

8

5

6= Nottingham

6

9

8

9

13

7

6= UCL

7

5

5

8

6

21

8 York

2

8

6

7

7

29

9 Bristol

16

7

14

12

9

12

10 Manchester

17

15

11=

17

15=

4

11 SOAS

10=

17

4

14

22

12 Bath

18=

12

26

10

5

11

13 Birmingham

18=

16

13

25=

15=

8

14 Loughborough

8

13

27=

27

12

13

15 King’s London

18=

10

10

21

18

27

16= Durham

10=

28

29

13

10

15

16= St Andrews

25

19

11=

6

11

33

18= Southamppton

14

20

20

11

28

19

18= Edinburgh

42

14

16

16

14

10

20 Sheffield

13

23

21

20

25=

14

The Push Guide (in association with The Independent newspaper) <www.push.co.uk/pushguide/>

Aimed at the prospective student, the Push Guide provides a somewhat light-hearted, although informative, guide to choosing a program and university. The guide offers top-ten lists on everything from campus sex ratios to graduate employment rates to cheapest drinking town to internationalization of the campus. Aiming to look beyond academic quality, the guide provides information on university towns, social life and projected expenses, in addition to more traditional measures such as admission requirements and teaching quality. Much of the information is available free of charge, however, a registration fee is required for premium services such as the university filter, which allows customers to narrow down their search based on the criteria that matters most to them.

Sutton Trust 13

The Sutton Trust is a charity which distributes grants to academically talented children from underprivileged backgrounds. In addition, the trust funds independent research projects aimed at highlighting and alleviating inequalities in access to education. One such analysis calculated the top 13 institutions in the UK, dubbed the “Sutton Trust 13,” based on newspaper league tables over the last few years. The Trust has since used this ranking to benchmark inequalities that exist in student access to top universities.

According to the analysis the top 13 schools in Britain are:

  • Cambridge
  • Oxford
  • LSE
  • Imperial
  • Bristol
  • Edinburgh
  • Nottingham
  • Warwick
  • Durham
  • UCL
  • St Andrews
  • Birmingham
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