Getting to grips with University Rankings

When researching your potential university options, there is a lot to consider. Students often compare their options using university rankings however, understanding these tables can often be an unnerving and confusing task. There are numerous ranking tables available, all of which evaluate the university data differently, hence students struggle with which is the best one to focus on. Here is a guide to help you get to grips with the ranking system and which one might be best for you.


What is ranking?

University rankings are pretty much exactly what they say on the tin; they are rankings of higher education institutions which are ordered dependant on factors including student satisfaction and entry standards.

Let’s have a look at the different ranking systems…

The Complete University Guide

The Complete University Guide was first published in 2007 and compares ten measures of a university, most of which are provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) or the university itself. These ten measures are:

·         Entry Standards

·         Student Satisfaction

·         Research Assessment - measures the quality of the research undertaken by the university.

·         Research Intensity - proportion of staff involved in research.

·         Graduate Prospects - measure of the employability of a university’s first degree graduates -  A low score in this criterion may not mean that the graduates are unemployed, but just in lower-level jobs. Also remember that this is dependent on the location and how difficult it is to get a graduate job there. 

·         Student-Staff Ratio

·         Academic Services Spend - expenditure per student on all academic services.

·         Facilities Spend - expenditure per student on staff and student facilities.

·         Good Honours - percentage of first degree graduates achieving a first or upper second class honours degree.

·         Degree Completion - completion rate of first degree undergraduates studying at the university.

This league table not only shows a general comparison of universities but also offers thorough rankings by subject, allowing those prospective students who know what subject they wish to study at university, to gain an idea of which are the better universities for them.

The Times Higher Education

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings was founded in 2004 and lists the top 980 universities in the world. This table ranks the universities by:

·         Teaching – this considers aspects such as the degree awarded to a student and the amount of PhDs per academic

·         International diversity – this considers the ratio of international: domestic in both staff and students

·         Research – this looks at the volume of research from the university, the reputation of their research department and the income related to their research

·         Citations – this refers to how often the university’s research is cited

·         Industry income – this looks at the research income from industry

This ranking list also allows a comparison of additional categories such as student: staff ratio, the number of international students, male: female ratio and the amount of full time students per university.

The Times University Education World University Rankings can be analysed by country or subject and also provides articles about the best universities within certain countries all around the world. Therefore, I would recommend this league table to those who are interested in studying abroad but are not sure of where to attend.  

Times University Education also provides a unique ranking table called 150 Under 50 Universities. This list ranks 150 universities from across the globe that are under 50 years old by the same criteria as the previous table. However, certain aspects, such as reputation, are weighted differently due to how new the university is. For students who are unsure about attending a newer university due to its original position on the league table, this table should reassure you!

The Guardian

The Guardian UK University Ranking only compares eight aspects of a university to form its ranking system. In contrast to other ranking tables, The Guardian’s university ranking does not include a measure on research. Instead, they have created their own unique category called ‘value-added’. This aspect compares students' degree results with their entry qualifications, which allows a student’s progress to be tracked over their time at university.  These eight criteria are:

·         Entry score

·         Feedback – given  by graduates of the course

·         Job prospects

·         Overall quality – final-year students opinions about the overall quality of their course

·         Spending per student

·         Staff: student ratio

·         Teaching quality – rated by course graduates

·         Value-added

This table can be compared by subject area and is very in-depth in this area therefore, students with an idea of what they want to study may find this table suitable for them. 

While each university ranking system is quite different in the way that they order the higher educational institutions, those who have made it to the top, appear to remain consistent on each ranking table of 2016. Meanwhile, it is important to remember that a university’s position in the tables reflects more than its performance over a single year. So while the top universities provide a good education, they have also built a good reputation over the years which the newer universities may not have achieved yet. Meaning that despite being near the lower end of the scale, the newer universities are not necessarily much worse than the top institutions. 


Deciding on which university to attend is difficult and one that should not be made lightly. These university rankings are made considering a variety of factors so it is essential to consider what is most important to you when looking at these figures. Although these rankings are here to help you make up your mind, remember that a university’s position in the league table is not everything! 

Fri 04 Nov 2016