Sunday Times University Profile Quiz

University league tables are not going away.  I wrote my first critique of a league table to accompany the first league table.  Many of my issues from 1993 remain, but particularly with the choice of indicators and the way that fractional differences in data are represented as changes in performance.

One part of the game is the ‘university profile’ that is published with supplement.   Universities engage with the writing of these, although editorial control remains with the guide.  You can often tell where the join is – there’s a bit that says what the vice-chancellor thinks the strategy of the university is (all too often framed in terms of league tables) followed by some stuff ‘explaining’ changes in the league table.  The methodology of the league table creates ‘stretch’ between 1 and 128 which is normally opaque (although most vice-chancellors will be provided with a re-creation of the league table explaining where the numbers come from sometime this week).   The profiles act to reinforce the notion that shifting rankings mean something.  However this stuff is quite context free, and (encouraged by Stephen Rowlstone) I offer the following excerpts to see if you can identify the university from the description of their league table position changes.  The online version of the profiles is longer than the one in the paper – which may also confuse things.

[A] remains the only modern university to have won our University of the Year award (back in 1999) but its recent performance in our league table suggests a repeat is not likely soon; this year it has tumbled out of our top 100 for the first time with a slump in results [rankings] across all eight indicators in our league table for which there was new data.

Despite its huge popularity among applicants [and location in one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in southern England, the university is failing to convert that into good scores in the annual National Student Survey]. The university now ranks in the bottom 10 for student satisfaction with the overall student experience, and is also in the bottom 25 for satisfaction with teaching quality.

This year has seen [the university’s] position stabilise in our league table, although [B] remains in the bottom 20 [institutions] overall. For a second successive year there was an [encouraging] improvement in its scores [ranking] for satisfaction with the student experience, [however] — the 16-place rise giving the university its highest ranking among our nine key performance measures (65=).

However,  the near-stationary overall ranking this year masks its improvement in six of our nine league tables,  including completion rates and graduate prospects. But these gains were offset by a slump in scores for teaching quality and student experience, measured in the annual National Student Survey, with [C] now in the bottom 20 for teaching quality nationally, according to its own students.

[D] This year’s small fall in our league table to three places off the bottom comes despite some exceptional results in last month’s National Student Survey (NSS), [which saw student satisfaction with teaching quality rise to 83.5%, good enough for a top 20 UK ranking in our table and a 50-place rise on its ranking based on the 2015 NSS results.]

[E], our University of the Year for 2015-16, has dropped out of our top 10 after only one year because of a decline in the measure that was most associated with its rise. The university is still well inside the top 20 in the National Student Survey both for teaching quality and the broader student experience, but it was in the top four for both last year. The dip of three percentage points has cost it six places in the overall table.

[F] has jumped 17 places in three years in our league table, after slipping well below its accustomed ranking early in the decade. It is now at its highest position for 13 years. Progress on this scale is not easy when the university more undergraduates than any other [has the second-largest number of undergraduates in our table and added nearly 800 students to its intake in 2015]. Entry standards are still higher than at most post-1992 universities.

However, this year’s 14-place fall in our ranking sees the university tumble out of the top 15 modern universities, a ranking it used to lead.  The fall is due in large part to a drop in student satisfaction, usually a strong point. On both our measures derived from the National Student Survey, covering satisfaction with teaching quality and the wider student experience, [G] falls out of our top 50, slipping 31 and 25 places respectively.

Universities in London tend to struggle in the National Student Survey (NSS), but none has as much trouble as [H] , which is ranked bottom this year both for the sections relating to teaching quality and those for the wider student experience, based on the verdict of its own students. The students’ scores for the quality of assessment and feedback from academics were particularly low.  … [strength in other areas — ranking in the top 10 for all remaining seven measures — ensures that it is still in the top 10 overall in our league table, but its NSS scores have resulted in a drop of five places in two years.]

[[I] is catching the mood of the moment, at a time when it is cementing its place as one of Britain’s leading modern universities.] Notwithstanding this year’s 14-place fall in our table, prompted by a dip in student satisfaction scores in the latest National Student Survey, [I] is around 20 places ahead of where it stood in our table three years ago, [and has seen the number of students starting degrees surge by more than 1,000 over the same period.] 

[[J] is just outside the top 40 in the world, according to the QS rankings. International rankings — where the university has enjoyed more recent success than domestic ones — do not take account of the annual National Student Survey in which] [J] has struggled to perform well … Our measures of student satisfaction with teaching quality and the wider student experience have seen significant improvements in scores at the university this year, although it’s still the case that just 30 institutions rank lower for student satisfaction with teaching quality.

Some universities don’t get the commentary on their league table position, often when it really has stayed the same, but there are other clues.

More than 500 years after his death, Richard III has never been more popular. The discovery of the monarch’s remains underneath a [K] car park catapulted the university that had led the way in his discovery into the global spotlight


Here are the answers, although they remain essentially meaningless:

A Brighton
B Leeds Beckett
C Bradford
D Wrexham Glyndwr
E Surrey
F Manchester Metropolitan  (where, I assume, it’s the treatment of the OU that changes whether it is has the largest or second largest undergraduate population)
G Oxford Brookes
I De Montfort
J Bristol
K Leicester






There’s nothing ‘outstanding’ about the proposal for universities to be forced to sponsor schools

The new green paper Schools that Work for Everyone includes some detail on the Government’s proposed link between University access agreements and their sponsorship of schools.  The Government would like to see all universities “sponsor existing schools or set up new schools in exchange for the ability to charge higher fees”.  The consultation notes that some universities already sponsor schools, and gives the example of the King’s College London Mathematics School (a highly selective 6th form).  Universities would have to either:

  • Establish a new school in the state system, of which the capital and revenue costs will be met by the government, or;
  • Sponsor an academy in the state system.

and, it should be noted, the following important caveat applies

In both cases, we would expect this school to be good or outstanding within a certain number of years, and over time we would expect universities to extend this partnership with the schools sector, to charge the higher rate of fees. For example, we would ask universities to extend their support to further schools after a certain number of years, which in turn would be required to be Good or Oustanding [sic] over time

(Yes, DfE spelt ‘Outstanding’ incorrectly)

Clearly the sector will need more detail on this.  Potentially the ability to charge more the £6k fees – effectively a third of the expected fee from home (and EU) students rests on sponsorship of a good or outstanding school.   This is a huge risk, as a single point of failure it is potentially greater than retention of your UKVI licence.  Would it be a single trigger, what time scales are involved, would the access agreement be terminated in one go, affecting all cohorts?

We can measure the risk as we know something of universities’ current engagement in school sponsorship.  HEFCE have completed a helpful survey, and there’s a page that lists the links they’ve found.  The most challenging group are the academies – many of which are ‘converter academies’, schools which faced serious challenges.  I count that universities sponsor 65 academies.  HEFCE include no performance data on these schools, but I have looked up the Ofsted reports related to these 65.  There are no reports for 11 schools – mostly because they have converted or been established too recently (or I missed them).  But this is the outcome of those academy reports

Outstanding 1
Good 31
Requires Improvement 14
Inadequate 8
No report 11

The proportion of university-sponsored academies rated good or outstanding (for which we have reports) is 59%, which is lower than the overall proportion of 74% (Ofsted Annual Report 2015).  Plenty has been written about the academisation programme, but there are findings that it is not always a magic bullet.  I would like to think it is because universities have acted as sponsors for schools with real challenges – and the concern would be that the proposals in the Green Paper would give universities a real incentive to drop struggling schools, rather than to work with them.  It is also not necessarily clear how much some sponsorship arrangements impact on schools (some of the co-sponsorships are not very evidence from cursory checks of school websites).  The proposed policy could be a startlingly perverse incentive; why sponsor an historically under-performing school and run potentially large risks when you can set up a small, highly selective feeder 6th form?

Annex: Secondary or all-through academies sponsored by a university

  HEI sponsor type School name Phase Date open Ofsted
Brunel University London Co-sponsor Stockley Academy Secondary Sep-04 Inadequate
Canterbury Christ Church University Main sponsor Dover Christ Church Academy Secondary Sep-10 Requires Improvement
Canterbury Christ Church University Co-sponsor The John Wallis Church of England Academy All Through Sep-10 Good
City University London Co-sponsor City of London Academy Islington Secondary Sep-08 Good
Edge Hill University Co-sponsor Manchester Communication Academy Secondary Sep-10 Good
Liverpool Hope University Co-sponsor Hope Academy Secondary Sep-11 Good
London South Bank University Main sponsor University Academy of Engineering South Bank Secondary Sep-14 no report
Newman University Co-sponsor St Edmunds Catholic Academy Secondary Jul-13 Good
Newman University Co-sponsor Perry Beeches The Academy Secondary May-12 Outstanding
Oxford Brookes University Co-sponsor The Oxford Academy Secondary Sep-08 Requires Improvement
Queen Mary University of London (MAT) Multi-academy trust Drapers’ Academy Secondary Sep-10 Good
Staffordshire University (MAT) Main sponsor Staffordshire University Academy Secondary Sep-11 Requires Improvement
Teesside University Main sponsor Freebrough Academy Secondary Sep-10 Good
Teesside University Main sponsor Thornaby Academy Secondary Sep-10 Inadequate
The University of Bradford Main sponsor University Academy Keighley Secondary Sep-10 Inadequate
The University of Chichester (MAT) Multi-academy trust Mill Chase Academy Secondary Nov-13 no report
The University of Hull Main sponsor Thomas Ferens Academy Secondary Sep-12 no report
The University of Kent Main sponsor Brompton Academy Secondary Sep-10 Good
The University of Kent Co-sponsor Longfield Academy Secondary Sep-08 Good
The University of Liverpool Co-sponsor North Liverpool Academy Secondary Sep-06 Requires Improvement
The University of Liverpool Co-sponsor Liverpool College All-through Sep-13 Good
The University of Nottingham Co-sponsor Nottingham University Samworth Academy Secondary Sep-09 Requires Improvement
The University of Salford (MAT) Multi-academy trust The Albion Academy Secondary Sep-12 Requires Improvement
The University of Wolverhampton (MAT) Multi-academy trust The ACE Academy Secondary Mar-13 Inadequate
The University of Wolverhampton (MAT) Multi-academy trust Smestow School, A Specialist Sports College Secondary Feb-14 no report
The University of Wolverhampton (MAT) Multi-academy trust Wednesfield High School, A Specialist Engineering College Secondary Sep-14 no report
The University of Wolverhampton Main sponsor South Wolverhampton and Bilston Academy Secondary Sep-09 Requires Improvement
The University of Wolverhampton Main sponsor North East Wolverhampton Academy Secondary Sep-10 Requires Improvement
University College London Main sponsor The UCL Academy Secondary Sep-12 Good
University for the Creative Arts Main sponsor Strood Academy Secondary Sep-09 Good
University of Bedfordshire (MAT) Multi-academy trust Samuel Whitbread Academy Secondary Mar-12 Good
University of Bedfordshire Co-sponsor All Saints Academy Dunstable Secondary Sep-09 Inadequate
University of Brighton (MAT) Multi-academy trust The Hastings Academy Secondary Sep-11 Requires Improvement
University of Brighton (MAT) Multi-academy trust The St Leonards Academy Secondary Sep-11 Good
University of Bristol Co-sponsor Merchants’ Academy All Through Sep-08 Good
University of Central Lancashire Co-sponsor West Lakes Academy Secondary Sep-08 Good
University of Chester Co-sponsor Wade Deacon High School Secondary Mar-13 no report
University of Chester (MAT) Multi-academy trust University Church of England Academy Secondary Sep-09 Requires Improvement
University of Chester (MAT) Multi-academy trust University of Chester Academy Northwich Secondary Jan-12 Requires Improvement
University of Chester (MAT) Multi-academy trust University Academy Warrington Secondary Jan-13 Requires Improvement
University of Chester (MAT) Multi-academy trust University Academy Kidsgrove Secondary Jun-13 Inadequate
University of Derby Co-sponsor Merrill Academy Secondary Jan-13 Inadequate
University of Exeter (MAT) Multi-academy trust Isca Secondary Oct-13 no report
University of Exeter (MAT) Multi-academy trust Cranbrook Education Campus All Through Sep-15 no report
University of Greenwich Co-sponsor The Leigh Academy Secondary Sep-07 Good
University of Greenwich Co-sponsor Wilmington Academy Secondary Sep-10 Good
University of Greenwich Co-sponsor Stationers Crown Woods Academy Secondary Sep-14 no report
University of Greenwich Co-sponsor Longfield Academy Secondary Sep-08 Good
University of Hertfordshire Co-sponsor Francis Combe Academy Secondary Sep-09 Good
University of Lincoln Main sponsor University Academy Holbeach Secondary Sep-11 Good
University of Lincoln Co-sponsor St George’s Academy Secondary Jan-10 Good
University of Plymouth (MAT) Multi-academy trust Marine Academy Plymouth All Through Sep-10 Good
University of St Mark & St John Co-sponsor The All Saints Church of England Academy Secondary Sep-10 Requires Improvement
University of the West of England, Bristol (MAT) Multi-academy trust Bristol Brunel Academy Secondary Sep-07 Good
University of the West of England, Bristol (MAT) Multi-academy trust John Cabot Academy Secondary Sep-07 Requires Improvement
University of the West of England, Bristol (MAT) Multi-academy trust Bristol Metropolitan Academy Secondary Sep-09 Good
University of the West of England, Bristol (MAT) Multi-academy trust Hans Price Academy Secondary May-11 Good
University of the West of England, Bristol (MAT) Multi-academy trust King’s Oak Academy All Through Sep-11 Good
University of the West of England, Bristol (MAT) Multi-academy trust Bath Community Academy Secondary Sep-12 Inadequate
University of the West of England, Bristol (MAT) Multi-academy trust Hanham Woods Academy Secondary Sep-14 no report
University of the West of England, Bristol (MAT) Multi-academy trust Digitech Studio School Secondary Sep-15 no report
University of the West of England, Bristol (MAT) Multi-academy trust Orchard School Bristol Secondary Sep-12 Good
University of the West of England, Bristol (MAT) Multi-academy trust Bridge Learning Campus All Through Mar-13 Good
University of the West of England, Bristol Co-sponsor New Fosseway School All Through Sep-09 Good
University of Winchester Co-sponsor The Bishop of Winchester Academy Secondary Sep-10 Good

Source: HEFCE academies sponsored by higher education list – snapshot as at 15 December 2015 with Ofsted Report outcomes accessed 12 September 2016 




The Bishop, the administrators and the university

We’ve been thinking about choice and markets  – the recent death of Rt Rev David Jenkins, former Bishop of Durham, brought back memories of a speech that he made on the night that the binary divide ended for university administrators.  

The obituaries covered his pastoral and theological work, but he was known for the political angle he brought to these.  This brought him a level of public awareness that few bishops can have had since.


The famous binary divide ran through higher education; splitting CDP from CVCP, NATFHE from AUT etc, and there were separate associations of professional services staff; the Conference of University Administrators (CUA) and the Association of Polytechnic Administrators (APA). There was a scrabble to resolve these when the divide ended, and by Easter 1993 the CUA and APA were ready to come together in a giant conference at Durham, becoming the Association of University Administrators (AUA).  To me, a newcomer in my first year as an administrator, the conference ran very well, with the highpoint being a gala dinner held in huge marquee sited on the racecourse.  The after-dinner speaker was the Bishop of Durham.  He gave a great speech.  It was great then, in 1993, but the themes that he developed that night are relevant today, as are the insights he offered for their solution.
He focused first on our very existence: thousands of university administrators.  He probed our conference programme, with all of the specialisation of functions that professional services staff undertake, and teased us.  We had a session on ‘Students as Customers’, a sign that all had ‘gone to pot’ he thought.  But he turned this onto a key question; our sessions were about how to run things, not what the university was for – ‘Can you keep a separation of powers about how to run things and what it is all run about’ (Jenkins, 1993: 5).

The core of his argument was based around the ideology of choice and markets.

…it is part of the zeitgeist that the most important priority is freedom of choice. There tends to be an operational concept of trying to give as many people what they call free choices as possible. That is to say, you have to satisfy the customers. It is very important to remember one thing about this, if anyone has read Aristotle (which mostly they haven’t) they will know that free choice is really of no significance at all. What is really significant is having the freedom to choose what is good.  The stupid notion that if everybody has more free choice, they will be better, is a very dangerous one indeed. How will they exercise their choices? How are they going to be educated so to do? It is the capacity to make good choices which matters. (Jenkins, 1993: 5-6)

He noted the problems with information – that it not value-free.  His concern about markets were sufficient for a whole book, but here he constrained himself to saying:

… you have to beware, I believe, of the spirit of the age, in the way in which there is at the moment, the most amazing unintelligent superstition about something called “the Market”. As a matter of fact “the market” doesn’t exist. That is a reification of a whole set of markets which are supposed to work together in a helpful manner. There is absolutely no reason to believe that there is any truth in this myth whatever. The “market” has no interest in the future, which we are steadily eating up by market consumption; the “market” has no interest in the public good, which is why the Government in pursuing the “market”, shows itself more and more incompetent on the subject; and the “market” has no interest in the sustaining of communities and the building up of trust which are essential to any communities which are doing anything about educating people in order to live in a worthwhile way which is likely to promote prosperity and caring for the future. (Jenkins, 1993: 6)     

My memory is that by this point the assembled mass of administrators were paying particular attention.  After all, we all knew that the Bishop had got into trouble for both his views on superstitions and his contradiction of Mrs Thatcher’s oft quoted notion that there was no such thing as society.  Surely Dr Jenkins was addressing this in his claim there was no such thing as the market.

He returned then to our administrative specialisations.

I think we may get some help here from the very word ‘universitas‘. The latin word was originally used to refer to the whole body of participants who were engaged in any particular activity, corporation or guild. As such, in the Middle Ages, it became applied to the universities of scholars, masters, teachers and students who were settling in a particular place for a particular pursuit.  Out of such bodies or the groups the universities developed as highly organised scholastic communities. The point is this – the original meaning of universitas, does not refer to a university being about everything or meeting every need. The original meaning refers to the involvement of everybody who is concerned with one special thing. That is to say, it is about collaboration, accountability, and mutuality. This is the essence of the universitas; not the fact that it contains every possible form of learning, delivering every possible sort of application. This insight is something to keep your eye on, and you should certainly be very wary of fragmentation or separation into individual pursuits.

This leads me to conclude that, if we are to develop true universities … what we need above all are various forms of togetherness. This means finding practical steps to bringing about equal partnership between academics, students and administrators.  … There has to be a common commitment, and a common organisation, for what I call professional stewardship and professional performance.   (Jenkins, 1993: 9-10)

Despite the problems of the then recession, and the increasing conception of the student  as customer (which he saw as the ‘ultimate betrayal, the ultimate heresy and the ultimate trivialisation’) his was an optimistic vision.  He commended us administrators for our ‘many skills, many ideas, much readiness to face challenges and seize opportunities’.

It was a perfectly judged speech.  It challenged us, over a thousand administrators in that tent, but gave us a positive role to play in the universitas.  In the last 23 years I have heard many speeches to AUA try to get that balance right.  I don’t like league tables very much, and I can’t judge whether it was the best speech about higher education that I’ve ever heard, but I’m sure that it was one of the best received.  We’ve applauded many speakers, but, at least in my corner of that vast marquee, we cheered the ending of this speech.  He finished it like this:

Therefore, as I more or less stand … in the shadow of a Cathedral which is commencing the celebrations of its 900th anniversary, I think we could take a slightly longer term view. I was sitting listening to a splendid service the other day and not having to preach, I could just attend and say my prayers, and some little voice said, from somewhere: “there may have been a Conservative Government for 14 years but what is that in 900?” So in the shadow of that Cathedral I dare to wish you God’s Speed in the immense challenges and struggle you face… (Jenkins, 1993: 10)


Jenkins D E, 1993, ‘Speech to Conference Delegates’ in Parrot V (ed) Durham 1993: Conference Proceedings, Manchester, Association of University Administrators
Jenkins D E, 2000, Market Whys and Human Wherefores, London, Continuum