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:
B Leeds Beckett
D Wrexham Glyndwr
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