Ranking for University of London

University of London LogoRanking for University of London

Three national rankings of universities in the United Kingdom are published annually – by The Complete University Guide, The Guardian and jointly by The Times and The Sunday Times. Rankings have also been produced in the past by The Daily Telegraph and Financial Times.

The primary aim of the rankings is to inform potential undergraduate applicants about UK universities based on a range of criteria, including entry standards, student satisfaction, staff/student ratio, academic services and facilities expenditure per student, research quality, proportion of Firsts and 2:1s, completion rates and student destinations. All of the league tables also rank universities on their strength in individual subjects.

Each year since 2008, Times Higher Education has compiled a “Table of Tables” to combine the results of the 3 mainstream league tables. In the 2017 table, the top 5 universities were the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, University of St Andrews, Imperial College London and Durham University. The top 5 universities in a 2009 ranking of British universities by national reputation were Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, LSE and St Andrews, while in a companion international reputation ranking, the top 5 British universities were Cambridge, Oxford, UCL, Imperial and Manchester. The top five universities in a 2015 ranking of institutes that produce the country’s most employable graduates in a survey of recruiters from major UK companies in the business, IT and engineering sectors were Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, Manchester and King’s College London. The five universities with the highest average UCAS tariff scores for undergraduates starting in 2015-16 were Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, LSE and St Andrews.

Disparity with global rankings

It has been commented by The Sunday Times that a number of universities which regularly feature in the top ten of British university league tables, such as St Andrews and LSE (in the case of LSE 3rd to 13th nationally whilst only 327th in the US News & World Report Rankings / 35th in the QS Rankings / 23rd in the THE Rankings), “inhabit surprisingly low ranks in the worldwide tables”, whilst other universities such as Manchester and KCL “that failed to do well in the domestic rankings have shone much brighter on the international stage”. The considerable disparity in rankings has been attributed to the different methodology and purpose of global university rankings such as the Academic Ranking of World Universities, QS World University Rankings and Times Higher Education World University Rankings. International university rankings primarily use criteria such as academic and employer surveys, the number of citations per faculty, the proportion of international staff and students and faculty and alumni prize winners. When size is taken into account, LSE ranks second in the world out of all small to medium-sized specialist institutions (after ENS Paris) and St Andrews ranks second in the world out of all small to medium-sized fully comprehensive universities (after Brown University) using metrics from the QS Intelligence Unit in 2015. The national rankings, on the other hand, give most weighting to the undergraduate student experience, taking account of teaching quality and learning resources, together with the quality of a university’s intake, employment prospects, research quality and dropout rates.

The disparity between national and international league tables has caused some institutions to offer public explanations for the difference. LSE for example states on its website that ‘we remain concerned that all of the global rankings – by some way the most important for us, given our highly international orientation – suffer from inbuilt biases in favour of large multi-faculty universities with full STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) offerings, and against small, specialist, mainly non-STEM universities such as LSE.’

Research by the UK’s Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) in 2016 found that global rankings fundamentally measure research performance, with research-related measured accounting for over 85 percent of the weighting for both the Times Higher Education and QS rankings and 100 percent of the weighting for the ARWU ranking. HEPI also found that ARWU made no correction for the size of an institution. There were also concerns about the data quality and the reliability of reputation surveys. National rankings, while said to be “of varying validity”, have more robust data and are “more highly regarded than international rankings”.