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Dumb and dumber: all new dumbest university rankings 2019

It's the registrarism top ten dumbest university rankings of the year!
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.

Following the huge acclaim for last year’s unique (probably) league table of the dumbest university rankings it seemed churlish not to provide an updated top 10 of the worst of the very worst.

Naturally the methodology has been tweaked in entirely arbitrary and quite opaque ways in order to achieve a publishable difference in the final ranking.

A rock solid presence in everyone’s list of the dumbest rankings has been the incredibly silly Spiked Free Speech Ranking.  Despite the popularity of this arrant nonsense among people who really should know better this league table has finally bitten the dust and is no more. It will take some beating in future and it is hard to imagine it being toppled but in the meantime it will occupy a special place in the dumbest of the dumb hall of fame.

10 Cosmo’s Unpopular Courses list

Cosmo’s new in depth higher education features have been something of a pleasure over the past year but this ranking displays the need for a little more homework before dipping more toes into the university league table pond. A simple list of the actual numbers admitted by subject does not necessarily indicate popularity or otherwise of university subjects. In the case of the very narrow area of non-European languages and literature this may be at least partially true but the idea that Veterinary Science is unpopular is somewhat wide of the mark – there is significant demand for a limited number of places.

9 The Student Nightlife Index

Dubious for quite a few reasons not least the improbable result that Huddersfield is named as having the best nightlife in the entire country. The ‘methodology’ covers the number of bars and clubs, the price of a pint, cost of a taxi, number of takeaways and a safety score. And pity Bangor; despite its good showing in several areas it appears to have only eight takeaway options.

8 Lame alumni

Utterly subjective but very amusing, this classic ranking from higher ed’s creative funsters The Tab, offers a league table based on some of the best and worst alumni. The scores start at minus 3 out of 10 for Exeter mainly because of Katie Hopkins and Oxford makes it up to 0 out of 10 and Newcastle achieves a mighty 4/10, mainly because of Rowan Atkinson. Warwick comes out top of the pile though with 10/10 on account of being the alma mater of Ruth Jones, aka Nessa out of Gavin and Stacey.

7 Uni land ownership

Just as controversial perhaps there is this exciting new ranking of land ownership by universities in in the UK. No prizes though for guessing which two ancient universities have the lion’s share of acreage in the country.
Oxford and Cambridge are by far the largest university landowners, holding a combined 41,580 acres, almost 80% of all university-owned land.

6 Virtual fighting

Ah, here we go, a top 10 of UK universities involved in a virtual fighting game. In Reality Clash, students apparently roam campuses to defend territory and fight with their friends in real-time virtual battlegrounds. The game has players navigating a 3D map, mining at specific locations for resources, building or customising unique guns and engaging in virtual combat.

5 Webometrics

One of my personal favourites this and the Ranking Web or Webometrics claims to be the largest academic ranking of Higher Education Institutions. Every six months

an independent, objective, free, open scientific exercise is performed by the Cybermetrics Lab (Spanish National Research Council, CSIC) for the providing reliable, multidimensional, updated and useful information about the performance of universities from all over the world based on their web presence and impact.

They count all your web stuff, process it in wholly inexplicable ways and come up with a ranking. Genius.

4 The poshest uni halls

And The Tab have done it again with a second top 10 entry, this time in providing a league table of the university halls which house the most privately educated students. As they put it:

Which halls are full of hidden closets of tweed and chinos, where prosecco is guzzled by the litre, and choruses of ‘rah’ and ‘DAHLING’, ring out until the days end?

The surprising news perhaps is that halls at Leeds and Bristol universities are tied in first place. Nice work Tabsters.

3 Kebabbed

In a similar vein to the Student Nightlife index at number 9 we have this ranking of the most ‘affordable’ university towns and cities. But, bizarrely, with the exception of London, Edinburgh and one or two others, they seem to think that there can only be one university in a city.

The methodology is nothing to write home about either, covering the cost of halls, cinema tickets, a cappuccino, a pint at your nearest ’Spoons and the cost of a large doner kebab. There are some shocking and completely unbelievable results. Almost as unbelievable as anyone publishing this guff.

2 Seriously seedy

Holding steady this year at number 2 is the exceptionally seedy ‘sugar daddy’ list. This must be an utterly fictional ranking but it is promoted several times a yet for the sole purpose of publicising this deeply unpleasant dating business. Every time the press release appears there is a nauseating response from parts of the media who unquestioningly repeat the statistics about the improbably high proportion of students who are said to be signed up to the site (thousands and thousands) and quote pseudonymous female students who claimed to be making large sums from sugar daddy arrangements. The ranking of new sign ups by institution deserves a special methodological prize.


1 Let’s hear it for the cheats

But straight in from nowhere at number one is this ranking of essay mill action. Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse than this in the rankings stakes along comes an essay mill, a company which profits from exploiting students’ vulnerabilities and supports cheating in higher education, deciding that it needs to produce a ranking. Yes, they produced a league table to show which subjects enjoyed the highest level of cheating and which parts of the country had the most cheats. Bravo – a great result to come out top of the dumbest rankings of the year.

Bubbling under

Still just outside the Top 10 are some not quite so dumb tables

  • The 50 under 50 degrees north ranking dropping a few places to number 16, 20 over 500 slipping to 18 and the famous 30 under 6 ranking down at number 19.
  • In with a bullet at 14 is this highly numerate offering from the ever-creative University of Bantshire – it’s a ranking based on university names and the scores they would attract in Scrabble. Truly the methodology is simple and faultless. A triple word score should propel them into the top 10 next year
  • Similarly, this updated wholly fictional ranking of made up institutions was also just not quite dumb enough to make it past number 12
  • A brand new entry at 21 is a pilot ranking from the THE based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals where universities can pick at least four from a shortlist of 11 SDGs and provide their own data on their performance to see who does best. A novel and extremely trusting approach perhaps.
  • And a new entry at 24 for this rather scary climate change ranking which identifies those universities most at risk from rising sea levels.
  • People and Planet, despite their consistent support for using the traditional honours degree classification system to reward universities which meet their very particular requirements, fail to break into the top 30 this year.
  • Looking to the future we are still waiting for the ranking of the news outlets which have most frequently used THAT photo of the three graduates with purple hooded gowns. Although that would arguably be more of a public service than dumb.
  • Another one to watch out for is this entertainingly named new ranking to be termed the Global University Ranking Utility (GURU). Yes, really. A leading research outfit in India is developing a league table intended to challenge the big global rankers and due to launch in 2020.

What dumb, dumber or dumbest league tables have we missed in this latest compilation?

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