A school and college
guide to university
When navigating university league tables, it
is important to recognise more than just an
institution’s ‘overall position’. Plus, one league
table shouldn’t inform a student’s entire decision.
They need to consider multiple university league
tables with their top priorities for higher education
study in mind.
If a student discovers that the institution they
want to apply to doesn’t rank highly on one league
table, this doesn’t mean this university isn’t for
Which university league tables are available?
There are three ‘major’ league tables: The Sunday
Times Good University Guide, Guardian University
Guide and The Complete University Guide.
There are also student experience rankings such
as WhatUni? whose figures are primarily based
on student surveys and opinion. Then there are
international league tables, the most notable
being: Times Higher Education World University
Rankings or the QS World University Rankings.
What will university league tables tell you?
League tables tell you more than simply which
university is the best at teaching. When you look
at league tables it’s important to understand the
methodology that the publication is using. Each
source will state which criteria they’ve prioritised
or considered. This will include, but is not limited
to: teaching excellence, research or student
experience. This will explain why an institution
might rank differently between university league
It will also help learners understand how the
strengths of different institutions are displayed.
If you have two students interested in the same
subject, one may be more concerned about
the quality of teaching and student experience,
whereas the other may be more attracted to the
quality of research. The significance of each table
really comes down to the individual student and
their specific needs.
The different metrics a league table is presenting
should also be considered. When viewing tables
online, you can adjust rankings to view where
a university ranks on the specific criteria your
student has prioritised as key to their university
experience. For instance, if a student thrives
better in environments where staff support is
frequent, you can arrange the Guardian University
Guide to see the student-staff-ratio at each
institution, determining how much access learners
will have to their tutors.
Don’t forget university subject league tables too!
Major university guides will also provide rankings
at subject level. Often learners will not consider
a university because it’s in the bottom half of a
league table. But they may discover that the same
institution offers the best course in the country
for their desired subject! This is especially true
for areas like medicine, veterinary science and
dentistry, where a smaller number of institutions
offer these programmes.
A league table can’t tell you
everything. They should be one
tool that is used as part of a
student’s research. It’s important
to encourage learners to also
visit universities, reach out to
potential lecturers, and to speak
to current students studying at
the universities they wish to