Are uni rankings just a load of rubbish?

Is your uni 23rd best in the country, or 11th? The truth is, no one really knows.

On Monday, The Guardian released its university league table for 2014, dubbing it the ‘one to watch’ because ‘students base their decisions about which courses to apply for on the Guardian guide’.

Sorry, do they really? Aren’t uni league tables just a load of bollocks?

This year, Edinburgh students were left pretty miffed after little-known Heriot-Watt finished above them in The Guardian’s table. Edinburgh is ranked 32nd in the world. Heriot-Watt doesn’t even make the Top 200.

And Bristol, which everyone knows is a safe haven for Oxbridge-rejects, comes a lowly 23rd in The Guardian’s table. Yet both The Times and Sunday Times rank it 11th.

So we’ve chucked the four major UK league tables into a chart to come up with an average rank for each uni.

The data for The Times and Sunday Times is for the 2012/13 academic year, while The Guardian’s and Complete Uni Guide is for 2014, but it’s the most up-to-date we’ve got.


If all those numbers have you a bit cross-eyed, we’ve picked out some of the wilder variations in this handy graph.

Take a look at universities such as Surrey. It’s ranked in the Top Ten in one table, but doesn’t make the Top 20 in another.

What are you supposed to think if you study there? Is your university better than institutions such as Warwick and York? Or are you actually knocking around below Loughborough and Sussex?

Finally, compare The Times’ UK rankings with the Times Higher Education’s (THE) world rankings. We’ve stuck to unis with a Tab site for this chart, otherwise things get a bit long, but the discrepancy is easy to see.

Edinburgh lags behind eight other Tab unis in The Times, but only four in THE. It doesn’t make any sense!

ranking compared
  • Anonymous

    Why have the times ranked UCL below Bath……..

  • Wilde Mouse

    People don’t seem to realise that if league tables were in any way accurate then they would all agree.

    • j

      tbf they do agree don’t they look at the graph

      • Anon

        Different league tables give different weights to standard measures, like student satisfaction or citations of research papers. International league tables ignore the first and focus on the latter, whereas UK-only ones do the reverse.

        Different newspapers plug the same stats into different formulae, which is why they don’t always agree. The problem is that newspapers are not open about their methodology, meaning that it is hard to measure a university against your personal preferences.

        The counterargument is that a top-flight university should be good at every measure, which is roughly what happens – the top 5 are made of the same suspects in pretty much every league table. The trick as a prospective student is to ignore the institution league table, check the subject-specific league tables, and use the relaunched Unistats site to get real detailed information on what each university offers each student.

        I would say the most effective way to read the tables is to drop any snobbiness about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ universities and approach them with an open mind… but how likely is that?

  • Brian

    Looking at just league tables is incredibly misleading, it does not give a full picture of the university and the individual departments in a university. This is why I chose Hull, in Politics it regularly outperforms many Russell Group Universities on a regular basis, plus the career opportunities offered can only be equalled by Oxbridge and maybe the London universities.

    Just look at what you want to do as a subject and only focus on that, in many cases the best might not be what people expect.

    • Cantab

      I find this very hard to believe Brian.
      The career opportunities for studying Politics at Hull are dwarfed by those offered at Oxbridge and certain London Universities.

      • Anonymous

        Cantab – I really hope you manage to remove your head from your own arse before you leave university