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The definitive ranking of university rankings 2020

Paul Greatrix ranks his favourite university rankings of the year.
This article is more than 3 years old

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

It’s question as old as time: who ranks the rankings?

One way or another we do seem to cover rather a large number of university rankings here, some of them UK-focused, others international and many of them really not very clever. All of them strive for greatness though in their relentless ordering of institutions. So, who does rank the rankings? Well, here’s your answer.

We need a bit of certainty in these troubled times and I’m pleased to be able to report therefore that you can be completely confident that the assessment made by the Wonkhe analytics team, working to my very detailed specification has delivered a definitive ranking of rankings of what are unquestionably the most essential league tables of recent times. Some are our very own, others have been provided by other outstanding league table compilers. Some of them go back a while but then quality counts.

There is, many will be disappointed to note, no space in our top 10 for the traditional old guard, your Times and Sunday Times, your Guardians, your Complete University Guides. They are just too rooted in the past and I think we can all agree no longer speak to the ranking enthusiasts of the day.

There are also some rankings which are genuinely definitive, which stand the test of time, reflecting the immutability of higher education and the solidity of our sector. There are a couple of those in there which simply do not need to be updated because they are as accurate now as the day they were published.

  • Standing steady at number 10 we have these wet and dry rankings of universities ordered by the surface area of water on their campus as well as their heritage assets.
  • You couldn’t make this one up. Down two places from last year at number 9 we have a new league table which claims to be the most accurate, precise, data rich and exciting ranking ever of fictional institutions. Since the last one.
  • In with a bullet at 8 is a particularly interesting ranking of pop culture references in journal titles. It records the fact that hundreds of journal articles have gone beyond Tina Turner references to dig into some really obvious song, film and book titles for inspiration. Simply the 8th best.
  • A new entry at 7 is this exceptionally creative and quite authoritative ranking of universities based on the scores their names would attract in scrabble. Whilst subject to a surprising level of change following its initial publication it now seems to have settled down. It comes, of course, courtesy of the finest ranking minds at Bantshire University.

  • In at 6 it’s a ranking of selected UK universities by their height above sea level. What this tells us is that many institutions are sitting pretty on high ground and will remain standing proud as rising sea levels begin to take their toll. A table for the times this.
  • At 5 we have an exciting collection of tables drawn from HESA estates data which includes the area of universities’ buildings and grounds, renewable energy generation, water consumption, emissions, waste, recycling, transport, and environmental management. A joy for all rankers.
  • A re-entry at number 4 we have the top 10 ranking of HE legislation and reviews. Ranked by a combined score derived from a judgement of ultimate impact and the outcomes of a comprehensive survey of registrars in my house and then weighted, this particular league table is difficult to argue with.
  • Edging up to number 3 is this diverting and frankly useless ranking of all of the daftest league tables around.
  • And then at number 2, climbing three places this year, is a ranking which has now become a firm favourite on the league tables circuit and reflects the harsh reality of a highly competitive, unequal world and the global market for on campus parking. Despite the likelihood of a major overhaul to recognise the impact of the pandemic for the moment this vital ranking continues to reward those who do it right, not just those with the best logos, fine notices, and wheelclamps.
  • The 2020 Number 1 ranking is of the tallest university buildings in the world, defined in our table as having an occupiable height that is 90% devoted to classroom, research, and educational administration use. It’s a dizzying list.



An unarguable and compelling table.

Here’s that top 10 in full

  1. The Tallest University Buildings
  2. The Wonkhe Car Parking Rankings 2021
  3. The Dumbest University Rankings 2020
  4. The Definitive Ranking of HE Legislation and Reviews
  5. HE Estates Rankings 2020
  6. The Very Scary Climate Change Ranking
  7. Bantshire’s Scrabble Ranking
  8. The Most Overused Pop Culture References Ranking
  9. The Ranking of Fictional Universities
  10. Lakes and Castles Ranking

Controversially, there is no place this year either for this ranking of university clock towers or indeed for this league table of the greatest university tunnels.

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