Rankings of universities in the United Kingdom

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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 2016 table,[3] the top 5 universities were the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, University of St Andrews, Imperial College London and Durham University. The top 5 universities in a 2009 ranking of British universities by national reputation were Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, LSE and St Andrews,[4] while in a companion international reputation ranking, the top 5 British universities were Cambridge, Oxford, UCL, Imperial and Manchester.[5] The top five universities in a 2015 ranking of institutes that produce the country's most employable graduates in a survey of recruiters from major UK companies in the business, IT and engineering sectors[6] were Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, Manchester and King's College London. The five universities with the highest average UCAS tariff scores for undergraduates starting in 2014-15 were Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, Durham and St Andrews.[7]


The following rankings of British universities are produced annually:

The Complete University Guide

The Complete University Guide is compiled by Mayfield University Consultants (which had previously compiled university rankings for The Times).[8] It was published for the first time in The Daily Telegraph in 2007, when it was known as The Good University Guide, and was produced in association with The Independent from 2008 to 2011.[9]

The ranking uses nine criteria, with a statistical technique called the Z-transformation applied to the results of each.[10] The nine Z-scores are then weighted (by 1.5 for student satisfaction and research assessment, and 1.0 for the rest) 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 nine criteria are:

  • "Academic services spend" – the expenditure per student on all academic services (data source: Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA));
  • "Completion" – a measure of the completion rate of students (data source: HESA);
  • "Entry standards" – the average UCAS tariff score of new students under the age of 21 (data source: HESA);
  • "Facilities spend" – the expenditure per student on staff and student facilities (data source: HESA);
  • "Good honours" – the proportion of firsts and upper seconds (data source: HESA);
  • "Graduate prospects" – a measure of the employability of graduates (data source: HESA);
  • "Research assessment/quality" – a measure of the average quality of research (data source: 2008 Research Assessment Exercise - note HESA have required the compilers to publish a disclaimer on the way that HESA data has been used with RAE data[11] );
  • "Student satisfaction" – a measure of the view of students on the teaching quality (data source: the National Student Survey); and
  • "Student:staff ratio" – a measure of the average staffing level (data source: HESA).

The most recent league table (2017) ranked the top 50 (out of 127) British universities as follows:[12]

Rank (1-10) University Rank (11-20) University Rank (21-30) University Rank (31-40) University Rank (41-50) University
1 University of Cambridge 11 University of Surrey =21 King's College London 31 QMUL =40 City University
2 University of Oxford 12 University of Bath =21 University of Nottingham 32 University of Leicester 42 University of Aberdeen
3 London School of Economics 13 University of Exeter 23 University of Kent 33 Queen's University Belfast 43 SOAS
4 Imperial College London 14 University of East Anglia 24 University of Bristol 34 Heriot-Watt University 44 St George's, University of London
5 University of St Andrews 15 University of Birmingham =25 University of Manchester =35 University of Cardiff 45 Swansea University
6 Durham University 16 University of Leeds =25 Newcastle University =35 University of Dundee =46 Harper Adams University
7 Loughborough University 17 University of Southampton 27 University of Reading 37 Royal Holloway =46 Keele University
8 University of Warwick 18 University of Sussex 28 University of Sheffield 38 University of Liverpool 48 University of Strathclyde
9 University of Lancaster =19 University of York =29 Aston University 39 Stirling University 49 University of Lincoln
10 University College London =19 University of Edinburgh =29 University of Glasgow =40 University of Essex 50 Coventry University

The Guardian

The Guardian's ranking uses eight different criteria, each weighted between 5 and 17 per cent. Unlike other annual rankings of British universities, the criteria do not include a measure of research output.[13] 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] The eight criteria are:[1]

  • "Entry score" (17%);
  • "Feedback" – as rated by graduates of the course (5%);
  • "Job prospects" (17%) (data source: Destination of Leavers from Higher Education);
  • "Overall quality" – final-year students opinions about the overall quality of their course (data source: the National Student Survey);
  • "Spending per student" (17%);
  • "Staff/student ratio" (17%);
  • "Teaching quality" – as rated by graduates of the course (10%) (data source: the National Student Survey); and
  • "Value added" (17%).

The most recent league table (2017) ranked the top 50 (out of 119) British universities as follows:[14]

Rank (1-10) University Rank (11-20) University Rank (21-30) University Rank (31-40) University Rank (41-50) University
1 University of Cambridge 11 University of Exeter 21 University of Falmouth 31 University of Manchester 41 University of Sheffield
2 University of Oxford 12 London School of Economics 22 University of Edinburgh 32 University of Reading 42 King's College London
3 University of St Andrews 13 University of Birmingham 23 University of Kent 33 University of Cardiff 43 University of Portsmouth
=4 University of Surrey 14 University College London 24 University of East Anglia =34 Keele University 44 Robert Gordon University
=4 Loughborough University 15 Coventry University 25 University of Nottingham =34 QMUL 45 Royal Holloway
6 Durham University =16 Leeds University 26 University of Glasgow 36 University of Aberdeen 46 Goldsmiths, University of London
7 Imperial College London =16 University of Southampton 27 Heriot-Watt University 37 Newcastle University 47 University of Leicester
8 Lancaster University 18 City University 28 University of Dundee 38 University of Bristol =48 Queen's University, Belfast
9 University of Warwick 19 University of York 29 Aston University =39 Swansea University =48 University of Derby
10 University of Bath 20 University of Sussex 30 SOAS =39 University for the Creative Arts 50 Northumbria University

The Times/The Sunday Times

The Times/The Sunday Times university league table, known as the Good University Guide,[15] is published in both electronic and print format and ranks institutions using the following eight criteria:[16]

  • "Student satisfaction (+50 to -55 points)" – the results of national student surveys are scored taking a theoretical minimum and maximum score of 50% and 90% respectively (data source: the National Student Survey);
  • "Teaching excellence (250)" – defined as: subjects scoring at least 22/24 points, those ranked excellent, or those undertaken more recently in which there is confidence in academic standards and in which teaching and learning, student progression and learning resources have all been ranked commendable (data source: Quality Assurance Agency; Scottish Higher Education Funding Council; Higher Education Funding Council for Wales);
  • "Heads'/peer assessments (100)" – school heads are asked to identify the highest-quality undergraduate provision (data source: The Sunday Times heads' survey and peer assessment);
  • "Research quality (200)" – based upon the most recent Research Assessment Exercise (data source: Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce));
  • "A-level/Higher points (250)" – nationally audited data for the subsequent academic year are used for league table calculations (data source: HESA);
  • "Unemployment (100)" – the number of students assume to be unemployed six months after graduation is calculated as a percentage of the total number of known desbefore completing their courses is compared with the number expected to do so (the benchmark figure shown in brackets) (data source: Hefce, Performance Indicators in Higher Education).

Other criteria considered are:

  • "Completion" – the percentage of students who manage to complete their degree;
  • "Entry standards" – the average UCAS tariff score (data source: HESA);
  • "Facilities spending" – the average expenditure per student on sports, careers services, health and counselling;
  • "Good honours" – the percentage of students graduating with a first or 2.1;
  • "Graduate prospects" – the percentage of UK graduates in graduate employment or further study (data source: HESA's survey of Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE));
  • "Library and computing spending" – the average expenditure on library and computer services per student (data source: HESA);
  • "Research" (data source: 2008 Research Assessment Exercise);
  • "Student satisfaction" (data source: National Student Survey); and
  • "Student-staff ratio" (data source: HESA).

Summary of National Rankings

The following universities rank in the top 10 in at least one of the national rankings; the table is ordered according to the Times Higher Education Table of Tables (2016):[17]

University Complete (2017)[12] Guardian (2017)[14] #a
University of Cambridge 1 1
University of Oxford 2 2
University of St Andrews 5 3
Imperial College London 4 7
Durham University 6 6
University of Warwick 8 9
University of Surrey 11 4=
London School of Economics 3 12
University of Exeter 13 11
University of Bath 12 10
Lancaster University 9 8
Loughborough University 7 4=
University College London 10 14

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 5 of all three national rankings.
c The university is ranked within the top 3 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 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 and KCL "that failed to do well in the domestic rankings have shone much brighter on the international stage".[18] 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.[19][20][21] 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.[22] 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 dropout rates.[1][23]

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.'[24]

British Universities in Global Rankings

The following universities rank in the top 100 of at least two global rankings:[25]

University QS World (2015/16)[26] THE World (2015/16)[27] ARWU World (2015)[28] CWTS Leiden (2016)[29] #a
University of Cambridge 3 4 5 24
University of Oxford 6 2 10 17
University College London 7 14 18 30
Imperial College London 8 8 23 37
King's College London 19 27 55 32
University of Edinburgh 21 24 47 58
University of Manchester 33 56 41 128
London School of Economics 35 23 101-150 90
University of Bristol 37 69 66 53
University of Warwick 48 80 92 59
Durham University 61 70 201-300 61
University of Glasgow 62 76 101-150 101
University of St Andrews 68 86 301-400 64
University of Sheffield 80 97 101-150 158
Queen Mary University of London 109 98 151-200 50
University of Exeter 161 93 151-200 35

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 50 of all four global rankings.
c The university is ranked within the top 25 of all four global rankings.


UK university rankings have been subject 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 argues the limitations of comparative data when comparing Universities.[33]

Professor Geoffrey Alderman writing in the Guardian makes the point that by including the percentage of 'good honours' this 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 B.Ed 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] And 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]


  1. ^ a b c d "The Guardian University League Table 2011 – Methodology" (PDF). London: The Guardian. 8 June 2010. Retrieved 15 September 2010. 
  2. ^ "The University League Table methodology 2011". The Complete University Guide. Retrieved 15 September 2010. 
  3. ^ "THE ‘Table of Tables’ 2016: University of Cambridge top for fifth year running". Times Higher Education. 15 October 2015. Retrieved 29 March 2016. 
  4. ^ "UK Reputation Index" (PDF). The Guardian (London). 20 August 2009. 
  5. ^ "International Reputation Index" (PDF). The Guardian (London). 20 August 2009. 
  6. ^ "The best UK universities chosen by major employers". Times Higher Education (London). 12 November 2015. 
  7. ^ "The 10 hardest universities to get into". The Telegraph. 9 May 2016. Retrieved 23 May 2016. 
  8. ^ http://www.planning.ed.ac.uk/Management_Information/CompleteUniversityGuide2010.htm Archived July 16, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ League Table Methodology – Complete University Guide
  10. ^ League Table Key – Complete University Guide
  11. ^ "The Complete University Guide 2014 methodology". The Complete University Guide. 1 May 2013. 
  12. ^ a b "The Complete University Guide 2017". The Complete University Guide. 25 April 2015. 
  13. ^ MacLeod, Donald (1 May 2007). "What the tables mean". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  14. ^ a b "University guide 2017: University league table". The Guardian (London). 23 May 2016. 
  15. ^ http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/gug/
  16. ^ "How the guide was compiled". The Times (London). 11 September 2011. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2011. 
  17. ^ Chris Havergal (15 October 2015). "THE ‘Table of Tables’ 2016: University of Cambridge top for fifth year running". Times Higher Education. 
  18. ^ Thomas, Zoe (11 October 2009). "UK universities top the league table in Europe". London: The Sunday Times. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 28 September 2010. 
  19. ^ "About ARWU". Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. Retrieved 15 September 2010. 
  20. ^ "QS World University Rankings 2010". QS Quacquarelli Symonds Limited. Retrieved 15 September 2010. 
  21. ^ "Global rankings system methodology reflects universities' core missions". Times Higher Education. 7 September 2010. Retrieved 15 September 2010. 
  22. ^ "QS World University Rankings: World Map Results (Filter by Institution Profile)". Quacquarelli Symonds Intelligence Unit. Retrieved 30 December 2015. 
  23. ^ "The University League Table methodology 2011". The Complete University Guide. Retrieved 28 September 2010. 
  24. ^ http://www.lse.ac.uk/aboutLSE/leagueTables/LSEinUniversityLeagueTables.aspx
  25. ^ University Rankings: United Kingdom
  26. ^ "QS World University Rankings 2015/16". Quacquarelli Symonds. Retrieved 14 September 2015. 
  27. ^ "World University Rankings 2015-16". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 30 September 2015. 
  28. ^ "Academic Ranking of World Universities - 2015". Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  29. ^ "CWTS Leiden Ranking 2016 - PP (top 10%)". Centre for Science and Technology Studies, Leiden University. Retrieved 18 May 2016. 
  30. ^ a b Reporter 485 | 28 October 2002 | University league tables
  31. ^ McNamara, Adam. "BULL: A new form of propaganda in the digital age.". Retrieved 6 August 2015. 
  32. ^ MacLeod, Donald (19 April 2007). "Funding council to investigate university league tables". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  33. ^ Brown, Roger (10 April 2007). "Tables can turn". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  34. ^ Alderman, Geoffrey (24 April 2007). "League tables rule - and standards inevitably fall". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  35. ^ Times Higher Education RAE tables
  36. ^ Guardian RAE results for 'Education' subject area
  37. ^ Times Higher Education RAE 2008 tables
  38. ^ BBC league table of student satisfaction survey

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