League Tables

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By now any year year 13s should be thinking hard about whether to go to university and if so, which course. The latest Guardian league table for Economics held a few surprises for my students who were not all that good at predicting the top 10. They were surprised to see Leeds in 10th and even more surprised to find Oxford Brookes and Edinburgh down in 26th and 27th. But what do these league tables tell us?

Let's start with what they are not:

  • They are not objective or entirely scientific. They are based in large part on a national student satisfaction survey. If as a university you have an especially demanding clientele then you may find yourself pushed down the rankings. Different tables also choose to include different criteria or weight them differently.
  • They do not tell you which university will get you the best degree. Many league tables include research ratings for various universities. While it is great to have access to the top academics in your field, as an undergraduate you will have little if any contact time with them at most universities and just because they are incredible researchers does not mean they can teach well.

With a careful eye on what criteria the ranking uses however, league tables can be an invaluable tool to help you decide. I like the Guardian rankings because they don't include research but do include 'value added'. This is an imperfect measure but it does give you an idea how well the university teaches its students. The likes of Oxford and Cambridge will always do well on the numbers gaining top degrees and top jobs because they take the best in the first place. What you should be interested in is how much they are going to help you improve.

So with all that in mind, pick through the tables carefully, don't take them as gospel and do make sure you check what is behind the headings - most will offer you a link to how they calculate them.

Here is the link to the Guardian's latest league table.

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