Image showing a range of university decision factors

 by Erin Wilson
, posted On 21 Dec '21
 Student Recruitment Assistant at Lancaster University

A school and college guide to university league tables - should you recommend them to students?

What are university league tables?

To universities, university league tables are a firm representation of their calibre as an institution.

To some students, they form the cornerstone of a decision that will influence their lives for the next few years. To others, they are merely a needle in the haystack when it comes to their search for a university.

What might a university league table measure?

League tables measure aspects of university considered important for a prospective student:
1.Proportion of graduates with ‘good’ degrees (i.e., those with a 1st or 2:1)
2. Entry standards
3. Staff numbers
4. Staff research scores
5. Student satisfaction
6. Graduate employment
7. University spending

To give you an example – shall we take Lancaster University? Current rankings place it at 11th according to The Times & Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022, 13th in The Guardian University Guide 2022 and 11th in The Complete University Guide 2022. Naturally, these are fantastic rankings and rightfully earned, however it is important to note that league tables are complex calculations and should not be considered in isolation. Lancaster has dropped from 10th to 11th in the Complete University Guide – this does not mean the university has worsened, merely the algorithm for calculating rankings has tweaked. So, it is wise to take rankings in context and to weigh them up alongside other data.

Image showing a student creating their own university ranking

League tables do not tell students everything they need to know

Those who create league tables aim to give as good an overview as possible for prospective students. However, they do not tell students everything they need to know. For example, they do not include information on resources - and scientists will want great lab facilities. For humanities and social sciences students, a good library with little competition will be vital.

What about modules? How many are available and how flexible are they? Finally, assessment methods; some universities assess modules 100% by exam, some by coursework, and most a mixture of the two – but students may have a specific preference.

Institutions could be high ranked, but still not the right fit. The best way to gauge this is by talking to current students, visiting institutions and viewing facilities to get a ‘feel’ for the university. As we’ve learnt through the pandemic, there is no real replacement for the value of an in-person open day.

League tables are a good foundation for a decision, but at least from my perspective as a recent graduate, a student’s decision should not be focused on whether a university is ranked 1st or 50th.

So, whilst league tables can be a useful guide to decide ‘where next?’ or even ‘where?’ on the journey into higher education, that’s all they should be – a guide. Ultimately, it’s about conducting wider, in-depth research beyond the league tables to discover the amazing opportunities and experiences students can gain at university.



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