A school and college
guide to university
league tables - should you recommend them to students?
What are university league tables?
To universities, university league tables are
a firm representation of their calibre as an
To some students, they form the cornerstone
of a decision that will influence their lives for
the next few years. To others, they are merely a
needle in the haystack when it comes to their
search for a university.
What might a university league table measure?
League tables measure aspects of university
considered important for a prospective student:
1.Proportion of graduates with ‘good’ degrees
(i.e., those with a 1st or 2:1)
2. Entry standards
3. Staff numbers
4. Staff research scores
5. Student satisfaction
6. Graduate employment
7. University spending
To give you an example – shall we take
Lancaster University? Current rankings place
it at 11th according to The Times & Sunday
Times Good University Guide 2022, 13th in The
Guardian University Guide 2022 and 11th in
The Complete University Guide 2022. Naturally,
these are fantastic rankings and rightfully
earned, however it is important to note that
league tables are complex calculations and
should not be considered in isolation. Lancaster
has dropped from 10th to 11th in the Complete
University Guide – this does not mean the
university has worsened, merely the algorithm
for calculating rankings has tweaked. So, it is
wise to take rankings in context and to weigh
them up alongside other data.
League tables do not tell students everything
they need to know
Those who create league tables aim to give as
good an overview as possible for prospective
students. However, they do not tell students
everything they need to know. For example,
they do not include information on resources
- and scientists will want great lab facilities.
For humanities and social sciences students, a
good library with little competition will be vital.
What about modules? How many are available
and how flexible are they? Finally, assessment
methods; some universities assess modules
100% by exam, some by coursework, and most
a mixture of the two – but students may have a
Institutions could be high ranked, but still
not the right fit. The best way to gauge this
is by talking to current students, visiting
institutions and viewing facilities to get a ‘feel’
for the university. As we’ve learnt through the
pandemic, there is no real replacement for the
value of an in-person open day.
League tables are a good foundation for a
decision, but at least from my perspective as a
recent graduate, a student’s decision should not
be focused on whether a university is ranked
1st or 50th.
So, whilst league tables can be a useful guide
to decide ‘where next?’ or even ‘where?’ on
the journey into higher education, that’s all
they should be – a guide. Ultimately, it’s about
conducting wider, in-depth research beyond
the league tables to discover the amazing
opportunities and experiences students can
gain at university.