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Strong and stable: the all new CUG 2021 league table

The Complete University Guide has released university rankings for 2021. It may look like little has changed, but Paul Greatrix tells you what you need to know.
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.

Despite the pandemic and the lockdown and all of the problems this has created for the country and the higher education sector it is reassuring that there is at least one thing we can be certain of in these difficult times.

No matter the scale of the challenges and the difficulties of data collection those lovely people at the Complete University Guide have managed to deliver a new league table on time and, I’m guessing, to budget. Reasons to be cheerful indeed.

Was all the effort worth it then? Well, if you want stability and security at the top then unquestionably so. Seven of the top 10 universities remain in exactly the same place as last year, two institutions drop one place and another one goes up two spots. It really is as thrilling as that. But the most reassuring thing for everyone craving strength and stability in their rankings in these most uncertain and insecure times is that, once again, Cambridge is top of the heap. For the 10th glorious year in a row Cambridge triumphs again. They’ll no doubt be raiding the cellars and parking vans on top of Senate House again to celebrate.

PositionUniversity(last year)
3St Andrews'(3)
4London School of Economics(4)
5Imperial College London(5)
10University College London(10)

More, more, more

You can find all the details of the placings here along with plenty of other commentary and information on careers, fees and many other dimensions of campus life. Although there is next to no change at the top there is apparently quite a lot of turbulence in some of the subject tables particularly in Medicine and other health related subjects. It’s not entirely clear why.

The main ranking comprises the following indicators:

The main League Table is based on ten measures: Entry Standards, Student Satisfaction, Research Quality, Research Intensity, Graduate Prospects, Student-Staff Ratio, Spending on Academic Services, Spending on Student Facilities, Good Honours Degrees, and Completion.

And the 70 Subject Tables are based on five measures: Entry Standards, Student Satisfaction, Research Quality, Research Intensity, and Graduate Prospects.

There are plenty of ways to sort all of the data too:

All University League Tables on can be filtered by year, region, and mission group (Cathedrals Group, GuildHE, Million+ Group, Russell Group, University Alliance, as well as unaffiliated universities). All tables can also be sorted by any of the measures that comprise them.

Full details of the methodology can be found here.

Down your way

I also particularly like some of the exciting regional highlights which the CUG authors have pulled out for our delectation:

  • 4 Welsh universities have climbed significantly, Aberystwyth climbing 13 to rank 58th, Bangor up by 11 to be placed at 72, and both Trinity St David and South Wales up 11 to come in at 91st 102nd respectively.
  • Edinburgh universities performed well, the University of Edinburgh climbing 1 place to rank 15th and Heriot Watt managing to improve its rank by 6 places to rank 29th and Edinburgh Napier managing an impressive increase of 9 places to rank 77th
  • In the South West Bournemouth was among the biggest fallers this year, down 16 places to rank 86th Arts University Bournemouth was one of the biggest climbers, up by 17 places and now ranking 48th
  • In the West Midlands Harper Adams remains the top new university, but was one of the biggest fallers, dropping 14 places to rank 41st in the university league tables
  • In Yorkshire and Humber Hull was one of the biggest climbers, up by 17 places to rank 64th
  • Meanwhile in the East Midlands Bishop Grosseteste was among the biggest climbers, up 13 places to rank 106th

Wise words for rankers

The Guide also offers some sensible advice on treating results with a degree of caution and I particularly like this nugget which notes the potentially misleading impact of very small data variances:

Be aware of bunching – in some tables, the rankings are separated by a very small difference. In these areas, you shouldn’t take the ranking differences between universities too seriously.

All league tables should come with this kind of advice.

So, it’s very much strong and stable from the CUG. Happy days.

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