Rankings of universities in the United Kingdom
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.[1][2] 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 2021 table, the top 5 universities were the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford (joint first), the University of St Andrews, the London School of Economics and Durham University.[3]
The following rankings of British universities are produced annually:
The Complete University Guide
The Complete University Guide is compiled by Mayfield University Consultants and was published for the first time in 2007.[4]
The ranking uses ten criteria, with a statistical technique called the Z-score applied to the results of each.[5] The ten Z-scores are then weighted (as given below) and summed to give a total score for each university. These total scores are then transformed to a scale where the top score is set at 1,000, with the remainder being a proportion of the top score. The ten criteria are:[6]
The most recent league table (2021) ranked the top 50 (out of 130) British universities as follows:[7]
Rank (1–10)UniversityRank (11–20)UniversityRank (21–30)UniversityRank (31–40)UniversityRank (41–50)University
1University of Cambridge11University of Warwick20=University of Nottingham31University of Dundee41=University of Essex
2University of Oxford12University of Exeter22University of York32Swansea University41=Harper Adams University
3University of St Andrews13University of Birmingham23Newcastle University33University of Liverpool43Aston University
4London School of Economics14University of Bristol24Royal Holloway, University of London34University of Surrey44University for the Creative Arts
5Imperial College London15University of Edinburgh25University of East Anglia35=Queen Mary, University of London45University of Stirling
6Loughborough University16University of Leeds26University of Aberdeen35=University of Strathclyde46Nottingham Trent University
7Durham University17=University of Manchester27Queen's University Belfast37SOAS, University of London47University of Kent
8Lancaster University17=University of Southampton28University of Sheffield38University of Leicester48=Arts University Bournemouth
9University of Bath19University of Glasgow29Heriot-Watt University39University of Reading48=Oxford Brookes University
10University College London20=King's College London30Cardiff University40University of Sussex50University of Lincoln
On an annual basis, The Complete University Guide also produces an individual ranking for British universities across 70 subjects.[8] The Guide includes a summary table ranking universities according to how frequently they appear in the top ten of each subject ranking.
The most recent league table (2020) ranked the top 10 (out of 61) British universities as follows:[9]
UniversityAppearances in
Subject Tables
Times in
Top Ten
in Top Ten
1University of Cambridge412741100.0
2University of Oxford37937100.0
3Imperial College London1401392.9
4Durham University3323090.9
5University of St Andrews2442187.5
6London School of Economics1211083.3
7University of Exeter3702670.3
8University of Bath2621869.2
9University College London3702567.6
10Royal Veterinary College30266.7
The Guardian
The Guardian's ranking uses nine different criteria, each weighted between 5 and 15 per cent. Unlike other annual rankings of British universities, the criteria do not include a measure of research output.[10] A "value-added" factor is included which compares students' degree results with their entry qualifications, described by the newspaper as being "[b]ased upon a sophisticated indexing methodology that tracks students from enrolment to graduation, qualifications upon entry are compared with the award that a student receives at the end of their studies".[1] Tables are drawn up for subjects, with the overall ranking being based on an average across the subjects rather than on institutional level statistics. The nine criteria are:[11]
The most recent league table (2021) ranked the top 50 (out of 121) British universities as follows:[12]
Rank (1–10)UniversityRank (11–20)UniversityRank (21–30)UniversityRank (31–40)UniversityRank (41–50)University
1University of Oxford11University of Bristol=21University of the West of England, Bristol31University of Sheffield41Nottingham Trent University
2University of St Andrews12University of Glasgow=21University of Birmingham32Royal Holloway, University of London42King's College London
3University of Cambridge13University of Edinburgh23University of Southampton33University for the Creative Arts=43Robert Gordon University
4Durham University14University College London24Swansea University34University of West London=43Oxford Brookes University
5London School of Economics15Strathclyde University25University of Manchester=35Heriot-Watt University45University of the Arts London
6University of Bath=16University of York26Coventry University=35University of Keele45Queen's University Belfast
7Loughborough University=16University of Exeter27Northumbria University37Cardiff University47Sheffield Hallam University
8University of Warwick18University of Leeds28University of Stirling=38University of Nottingham48University of Abertay Dundee
9Imperial College London19University of Dundee29University of Chichester=38University of East Anglia49University of Aberystwyth
10Lancaster University20University of Aberdeen30Aston University40Kingston University50Bolton University
The Times/The Sunday Times
The Times/The Sunday Times university league table, known as the Good University Guide,[13] is published in both electronic and print format and ranks institutions using the following eight criteria:[14]
Other criteria considered are:
Summary of national rankings
The following universities rank in the top 10 in at least one of the most recent national rankings (the three discussed above: the Complete, Guardian and Times/Sunday Times[15]). The table is ordered according to the Times Higher Education Table of Tables (2020), based on average rank in the tables for that year.[3] The last column gives the number of league tables (not including the Table of Tables) which include that university in their top ten.
UniversityTHE Table of Tables (2021)[3]Complete (2021)[7]Guardian (2021)[12]Times[16]#a
University of Cambridge1=13Y3b
University of Oxford1=21Y3b
University of St Andrews332Y3b
London School of Economics445Y3c
Durham University574Y3
Imperial College London659Y3
Loughborough University767Y3
University of Bath896Y3
Lancaster University9810Y3
University of Warwick10118Y2
University College London111014Y2
a Number of times the university is ranked within the top 10 of one of the three national rankings.
b The university is ranked within the top 3 of all three national rankings.
c The university is ranked within the top 5 of all three national rankings.
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, Durham 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, Edinburgh and KCL "that failed to do well in the domestic rankings have shone much brighter on the international stage".[17] 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.[18][19][20] 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.[21] 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 drop-out rates.[1][22]
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.'[23]
Research by the UK's Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) in 2016 found that global rankings fundamentally measure research performance, with research-related measures 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".[24]
British universities in global rankings
The following universities rank in the top 100 of at least two global rankings:[25]
See also: College and university rankings
UniversityQS World (2020)[26]THE World (2020)[27]ARWU World (2019)[28]CWTS Leiden (2019)[29]#a
University of Oxford417114b
University of Cambridge733174b
Imperial College London91023214b
University College London81515184b
University of Edinburgh203031524
University of Manchester2755=33554
King's College London3336=51354
London School of Economics4427=151–200433
University of Bristol498774374
University of Warwick6277101–150643
University of Glasgow6799=151–200563
Durham University78133201–300972
University of Birmingham81112101–150932
University of Leeds93155=101–150832
University of Sheffield78117=101-150882
a Number of times the university is ranked within the top 100 of one of the four global rankings.
b The university is ranked within the top 25 of all four global rankings.
UK university rankings have been subjected to criticism.
Accuracy and neutrality
There has been criticism of attempts to combine different rankings on for example research quality, quality of teaching, drop out rates and student satisfaction. Sir Alan Wilson, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds argues that the final average has little significance and is like trying to "combine apples and oranges".[30] He also criticised the varying weights given to different factors, the need for universities to "chase" the rankings, the often fluctuating nature of a university's ranking, and the catch-22 that the government's desire to increase access can have negative effects on league table rankings.[30] Further worries have been expressed regarding marketing strategies and propaganda used to chase tables undermining Universities values.[31]
The Guardian suggests that league tables may affect the nature of undergraduate admissions in an attempt to improve a university's league table position.[32]
Roger Brown, the former Vice-Chancellor of Southampton Solent University, highlights perceived limitations in comparative data between Universities.[33]
Writing in The Guardian, Professor Geoffrey Alderman makes the point that including the percentage of 'good honours' can encourage grade inflation so that league table position can be maintained.[34]
The rankings are also criticised for not giving a full picture of higher education in the United Kingdom. There are institutions which focus on research and enjoy a prestigious reputation but are not shown in the table for various reasons. For example, the Institute of Education, University of London (now part of UCL), was not usually listed in the undergraduate rankings despite the fact that it offered an undergraduate BEd and was generally recognised as one of the best institutions offering teacher training and Education studies (for example, being given joint first place, alongside Oxford University, in the 2008 Research Assessment 'Education' subject rankings, according to both Times Higher Education and The Guardian).[35][36]
Full-time bias
League Tables, which usually focus on the full-time undergraduate student experience, commonly omit reference to Birkbeck, University of London, and the Open University, both of which specialise in teaching part-time students. These universities, however, often make a strong showing in specialist league tables looking at research, teaching quality, and student satisfaction. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, according to the Times Higher Education, Birkbeck was placed equal 33rd, and the Open University 43rd, out of 132 institutions.[37] The 2009 student satisfaction survey placed the Open University 3rd and Birkbeck 13th out of 153 universities and higher education institutions (1st and 6th, respectively, among multi-faculty universities).[38] In 2018, Birkbeck announced that it will withdraw from UK university rankings because their methodologies unfairly penalise it, since "despite having highly-rated teaching and research, other factors caused by its unique teaching model and unrelated to its performance push it significantly down the ratings".[39]
  1. ^ a b c "The Guardian University League Table 2011 – Methodology" (PDF). The Guardian. London. 8 June 2010. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 July 2010. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
  2. ^ "The University League Table methodology 2011". The Complete University Guide. Archived from the original on 24 August 2010. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
  3. ^ a b c Ellie Bothwell (7 October 2020). "THE 'Table of Tables' 2021: Scottish universities make gains". Times Higher Education.
  4. ^ "League Table Methodology". Archived from the original on 7 February 2011. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  5. ^ "League Table Key – Complete University Guide". Archived from the original on 18 August 2010. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  6. ^ "University League Tables Methodology". Retrieved 21 March 2020.
  7. ^ a b "The Complete University Guide 2021". The Complete University Guide. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  8. ^ "Top UK University League Tables and Rankings 2020". www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk​. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  9. ^ "Who Ranks Top of the Tables by Subject 2020". www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk​. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  10. ^ MacLeod, Donald (1 May 2007). "What the tables mean". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 21 August 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  11. ^ Matt Hiely-Rayner (7 June 2019). "Methodology behind The Guardian University Guide 2020". The Guardian.
  12. ^ a b "The best UK universities 2021 – league table". The Guardian. London. 5 September 2020.
  13. ^ "The Times & The Sunday Times". Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  14. ^ "How the guide was compiled". The Times. London. 11 September 2011. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
  15. ^ Positions not shown for Times/Sunday Times due to copyright restrictions
  16. ^ "Good University Guide 2021". The Times/Sunday Times. 20 September 2020.
  17. ^ Thomas, Zoe (11 October 2009). "UK universities top the league table in Europe". The Sunday Times. London. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
  18. ^ "About ARWU". Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. Archived from the original on 30 January 2013. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
  19. ^ "QS World University Rankings 2010". QS Quacquarelli Symonds Limited. Archived from the original on 16 September 2010. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
  20. ^ "Global rankings system methodology reflects universities' core missions". Times Higher Education. 7 September 2010. Archived from the original on 11 September 2010. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
  21. ^ "QS World University Rankings: World Map Results (Filter by Institution Profile)". Quacquarelli Symonds Intelligence Unit. Archived from the original on 6 January 2016. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  22. ^ "The University League Table methodology 2011". The Complete University Guide. Archived from the original on 24 August 2010. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
  23. ^ Science, London School of Economics and Political. "About LSE". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  24. ^ Bahram Bekhradnia (15 December 2016). "International university rankings: For good or ill?" (PDF). Higher Education Policy Institute. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 February 2017. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
  25. ^ 2018, Scimetrica, www.scimetrica.com - ©. "United Kingdom - Countries - Universityrankings.ch / Institutions". www.universityrankings.ch​. Archived from the original on 20 February 2018. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  26. ^ "QS World University Rankings 2020". Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  27. ^ "World University Rankings". Times Higher Education (THE). Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  28. ^ "Academic Ranking of World Universities – 2017". Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  29. ^ "CWTS Leiden Ranking 2019 - PP top 10%". CWTS Leiden Ranking. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  30. ^ a b "Reporter 485 - 28 October 2002 - University league tables". reporter.leeds.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  31. ^ McNamara, Adam. "BULL: A new form of propaganda in the digital age". Archived from the original on 17 December 2015. Retrieved 6 August 2015.
  32. ^ MacLeod, Donald (19 April 2007). "Funding council to investigate university league tables". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 21 July 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  33. ^ Brown, Roger (10 April 2007). "Tables can turn". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 21 July 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  34. ^ Alderman, Geoffrey (24 April 2007). "League tables rule – and standards inevitably fall". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 21 July 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  35. ^ "Times Higher Education RAE tables" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 20 August 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  36. ^ "RAE 2008: education results". The Guardian. 18 December 2008. Archived from the original on 10 May 2017. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  37. ^ "Times Higher Education RAE 2008 tables"(PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 20 August 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  38. ^ "Student survey results 2009". 6 August 2009. Archived from the original on 13 March 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2018 – via news.bbc.co.uk.
  39. ^ "Birkbeck to leave UK university league tables". Bbk.ac.uk. 9 October 2018. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
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Last edited on 4 March 2021, at 01:35
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