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University rankings guide

Hotcourses' guide to the rankings and league table system.

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With so many universities and colleges to choose from, how can you make up your mind what is the best option? Some of the most popular and authoritative methods that students use are university rankings and league tables. To help you get the most out of these tools, and to balance them with other resources, Hotcourses’ editor Alejandra has written the following article to help you.

Deciding which course to study and choosing a university can seem like the most significant, and at times, intimidating decision you will have ever had to make. There seem to be so many options available and all institutions claim to be the best, so what can you do to separate the pack?

The first thing to do is work out what you think is the most important factor that governs your decision. Is it about finding the right course, getting a scholarship or choosing a destination? Maybe you know what you want to study Business, but you don’t know which college has the best department. This is where rankings come in.

 

The Guardian University Guide

The Guardian University Guide is a well-established university ranking that, unlike other league tables, measures how well institutions perform at teaching and resources and in their research performance, which is more interesting for postgraduates.

Assessment criteria:

• Teaching quality, as rated by final-year students in the national student survey (NSS): percentage of students satisfied.

• Feedback and assessment, as rated by final-year students in the NSS: percentage of students satisfied.

• NSS results when final-year students were asked about the overall quality of their course.

• Spending per student – given as a banded score out of 10.

• Staff-student ratio: number of students per member of teaching staff.

• Career prospects: proportion of graduates who find graduate-level employment, or study full-time, within six months of graduation.

• Value added: comparing students' individual degree results with their entry qualifications – given as a banded score out of 10. This helps to show the effectiveness of teaching at an institution – the extent to which a department helps students to exceed expectation.

• Entry qualifications (UCAS student scores from school).

 

The Times Good University Guide

The Times Guide has been recognised as the most authoritative assessment of its type since 1993. The universities in the main table are compared via eight well-established measures of importance to undergraduates:

    * Student Satisfaction (according to National Student Survey)

    * Research (Research Assessment Exercise)

    * Entry Standards - Average UCAS tariff score

    * The student-staff ratio

    * Library and Computing spending - Average expenditure per student

    * Facilities spending - Average expenditure per student on sports, careers services, health and counselling

    * Good Honours - Percentage of students graduating with a good degree, 'good' being defined as a first or 2.1

    * Graduate prospects – Percentage of UK graduates in graduate employment or further study

    * Completion - Percentage of students who manage to complete their degree

 

The Times Higher Education

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings were developed in concert with Thomson Reuters, a new rankings data provider, and with input from more than 50 leading figures in the sector from 15 countries across every continent.

The assessment methodology employs 13 separate performance indicators designed to capture the full range of university activities, from teaching to research to knowledge transfer, represented by 5 categories:

    * Teaching — the learning environment

    * Research — volume, income and reputation

    * Citations of published papers — research influence

    * Industry income — innovation

    * International mix — staff and students

Shanghai University World Ranking

The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), first published in 2003 by Shanghai University has become, according to The Economist, the “most widely used annual ranking of the world's research universities.” More than 1000 universities are actually ranked by ARWU every year and the best 500 are published on the web.

It uses six objective indicators to rank world universities:

  • Number of alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals
  • Number of highly cited researchers selected by Thomson Scientific
  • Number of articles published in journals of Nature and Science
  • Number of articles indexed in Science Citation Index
  • Expanded and Social Sciences Citation Index  
  • Performance per capita with respect to the size of an institution.

Although rankings are a useful way to evaluate certain areas of university performance, they should not be the starting point of your investigation, or the deciding factor in your ultimate decision. There is no point going to a university who scored higher than another, based on this information alone; you should first figure out what you want to study, where you want to study and how you want to study. When you are confident of these three things, your choices will automatically be narrowed down by their relevance to your needs. Rankings can then be used at this stage to fine-tune your existing options.

Remember, there are many other resources available to you besides rankings. Try reading reviews from existing students to see what your chosen university is really like. This is a great way to get beyond the facts and figures and into the actual experience that you are looking forward to.

You can also find lots of blogs and articles from other students, right here on Hotcourses!

We have also collected together all of the major rankings for you in one place – including the overall results from our student reviews. A comprehensive collection of university rankings:

If you would like to learn more about the city that your chosen university is located in, check out Hotcourses' City Focus article for a brief overview of what you can expect from your new hometown.

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About Author

Aspiring journalist and Cambridge University graduate, Londoner 'by adoption'. Tweeting for @hotcourses_Abrd

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