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Challenging university earnings predictions – TV or TEF, you decide

Forget LEO, Graduate Outcomes or NSS ratings - a new metric on University Challenge appearances as a predictor of graduate earnings has caught Registrarism's eye
This article is more than 4 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

My eye was caught by this recent piece about a potentially powerful new league table metric.

Forget your LEO, Graduate Outcomes or NSS ratings, this story on a report by Professor Marco Mongiello and colleagues at the University of Surrey suggests that institutional University Challenge appearances are the best predictor of graduate earnings.

The Surrey research says that there is a “correlation between appearing on University Challenge and being a higher-ranked university, which correlates with higher real earnings.”
It goes on to say: “There is no correlation between TEF gold and silver and being a higher ranked university/higher income.”
The study concludes: “There is a correlation between being a lower ranked university and having a TEF bronze.
“Therefore, the frequency of appearance of a university on a TV programme is a better predictor of yielding a better job, than TEF gold or silver, as predicted.”

Well, it’s a bold assertion.

Let’s look then at which universities have appeared the most on University Challenge

Of course, the distinctive nature of the programme means that every Oxbridge college is able to enter separately and, as can be seen above, some of them have done rather well. If we combined them though then collectively, Cambridge colleges have appeared in the equivalent of 133 series and Oxford Colleges 122. (See here for all the University Challenge data you could possibly wish for.)

Seems about right then. I wondered though about whether University Challenge winners might fare even better. The winners list is as follows

As before though, if we aggregate the Oxbridge college winners we get a slightly different picture:

Oxford 16
Cambridge 11
Manchester 4
Sussex 2
Open University 2
Durham 2
Imperial 2

And if we put that alongside the highly reliable and wholly accurate list of universities which have created the most millionaires (borderline fiction) we find some interesting results:

1 University of Oxford – 153
2 Cambridge University – 111
3 Imperial College – 78
4 LSE – 70
5 UCL – 69
6 Manchester University – 69
7 University of Bristol – 50
8 University of Edinburgh – 47
9 University of Leeds – 38
10 University of Birmingham – 37

The best bit about this piece though is that they secured an entertainingly po-faced response form the DfE:

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) provides the best all-round assessment of the teaching and outcomes delivered by universities – it is not designed solely to look at earnings.
“It takes into account a number of important factors, including drop-out rates, student satisfaction and graduate earnings to give prospective students the full picture of an institution.
“For applicants with a particular interest in just earnings, we have made a record amount of data available on graduate outcomes by university and subject, which should be relied on instead of University Challenge.”

Next up, we ask the DfE whether or not prospective students should believe Discover Uni or trust spin the bottle instead.

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