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The world turned upside down: The Guardian university ranking 2020

The Guardian university ranking 2020 is out. Paul Greatrix has had a think about how extraordinary they are.
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.

In a series of quite astonishing events the latest Guardian league table has calculated a lot of calculations and come up with some remarkable and extraordinary placings.

Special and different

So, how does the Guardian describe this very surprising set of turn ups for the books? It’s different and aimed at students apparently:

This guide is different from the other university guides you may have come across because it is aimed specifically at students who are trying to choose a course.
So it ranks universities on all the factors that are most important to young people: how much they will benefit from the teaching, whether current students like the university and the subject, and what their chances are of getting a good job. It does not include research scores, because these are of limited relevance to students.
It includes a score for the ratio between staff and students. And last year we introduced a continuation measure – this tells you what percentage of first-year students go into second year. It is a good indication of how successful the university is in supporting all students, including those who may be struggling.
We have ranked universities according to their Guardian score. You can see how they performed for each of the factors we think are important.

There is loads of stuff on the website including all the subject rankings and every institutional description you could possibly want.

Shout it to the top

So, without further ado, here is the actual top 20, and what a top 20 it is.

Everyone’s a winner, baby, that’s no lie

There is plenty of movement for the commentators to get excited about and for press teams to crow about but here are six key things we have learned from the top 20:

  • for the first time ever in the history of domestic rankings (possibly) Cambridge and Oxford have been split – St Andrews amazingly comes in second place. Aaah.
  • whilst the top 10 is largely unchanged with 5 universities not moving at all, there are some big changes in the next 10 places
  • York and LSE are the big losers here dropping 8 and 4 places to 20th and 19th positions respectively. Oooh.
  • in with a bullet at 13 is the University for the Creative Arts which apparently wasn’t even in the table last year. Remarkable!
  • Glasgow and Lincoln both also climb into the top 20.
  • Nottingham Trent continues its march up the Guardian ranking and overtakes Coventry which slips back a couple of places.

Everyone is indeed a winner as all those feverish press releases can confirm.

With a little help from my friends

It’s tremendous fun as every league table is. And it seems it has been going for 20 years:

The Guardian University Guide is in its 20th year of publication, and is highly regarded within the sector.

The sector’s regard for league tables starts, of course, from a fairly low point so this is perhaps not an excessively grand claim. And if we have another year of NSS boycotts then there is going to be even more missing data from quite a few institutions which will greatly challenge the methodology.

Finally, in addition to the tips on how to choose a course and what kind of university to look at, the Guardian includes this vital piece of advice for prospective students:

The higher up the university is in the league table, the harder it will be to get in.

Good luck!

4 responses to “The world turned upside down: The Guardian university ranking 2020

  1. I can’t help but read this as you being rather bitter about the whole situation if I’m honest Mr Greatrix.

    I also get the feeling that you do not place much weight on the Guardian league table at all – I wonder if that would perhaps change if the University of Nottingham were in the top 5?

  2. I was a student at York Sixth Form College (before it was demolished to make way for the current York College) about twenty years ago. One of the physics classrooms had a university league table on the door with the University of York, highlighted in bright pink, splitting Cambridge and Oxford. How times have changed.

    League tables really should be taken with a pinch of salt. Just because someone else liked the course, it doesn’t mean you will. At York, they have an open-door policy, where students can arrange with academic staff for help if they need it, effectively one-to-one tuition. I don’t think that any of the league tables will take that into account.

    Unlike a sports league table, for example, which leave out personal bias, these university league tables require someone to sit down in advance and decide on which criteria these institutions should be judged, and also how significantly their scores should be weighted by each criterion. When I look at a league table of any kind that is ordered by rank, I expect those higher up the table to be necessarily superior to those lower down. Because each newspaper that has their own table differs from every other, it should serve as a warning that they aren’t serving their perceived intended purpose, and perhaps they belong somewhere between the horoscopes and the agony aunt column. Their only true purpose is to sell more newspapers, of course.

    Someone might not know what to expect from teaching staff if they haven’t been a student at university before, say, and may be prone to overrate the teaching standards. Conversely, another student might have over-inflated expectations about what academic staff should be doing for them, and not fully appreciate that when they get to university they should be taking more responsibility for their own learning than they will have been used to. If it is a student’s first time at university, they have nothing else to compare it to, and their feedback should really be processed differently.

    And some league tables judge universities on how much they spend. Hmmm. If you’re a politics student and your university spends tens of millions of pounds on a new science wing, how is that going to improve your university experience?

    Some league tables judge universities on UCAS tariff points. Even though the average UCAS tariff points of a university’s typical student on entry might be of use to prospective students, for example, to see if they might make a competitive application, it wouldn’t have any bearing whatsoever on their time at university or their prospects after.

    You have raised a good point, Mr. Greatrix, about the oddities of the league tables. Until someone comes up with an alternative, many universities might not get the credit they deserve. And yes, I would write that if York were in the top 5.

  3. What a joke – UCL, Bristol and Manchester outdone by “Uni of the Creative Arts”, Lincoln and Coventry lol!

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