Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
League Tables of British Universities
Starting in the early 1990s, The Times newspaper started publishing league tables ranking British universities based on a number of criteria, such as the quality of their teaching and research (which were assessed by external inspectors), entry standards and dropout rates. These league tables have become increasingly popular over the last few years, and several other papers, such as The Guardian, now publish their own tables.
The league tables are often used by students when deciding which universities to apply to. Some tables are more specific, ranking universities on their strength in individual subjects, and not just overall teaching and research across a range of subjects.
Although the various tables differ slightly in how they assess universities, the same names tend to dominate the top positions. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge have typically headed the list, based on their superior funding and prestige (stemming from the fact that they have significantly longer histories than other English universities). This allows them to attract some of the country's best students, lecturers and researchers. Cambridge has fared better, as it has claimed first place most years, beating Oxford into second position. Oxford has recently been top of some lists though, based on its greater spending on facilities, but it still lags behind Cambridge in its teaching and research assessments.
Third place is consistently taken by either Imperial College London or the LSE. It is difficult to form a list of other high-achieving universities without irritating students at institutions that have been left off the list. However, a list of universities that have been in the overall Top 10 in all three big rankings (The Times, The Sunday Times and The Guardian) for the last two years includes: Cambridge, Imperial, the LSE, University College London, Oxford, the University of Warwick and the University of York. An independent analysis by the Sutton Trust has calculated the top thirteen British universities based on newspaper league table rankings over the past five years. The list included all of the above plus Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Edinburgh, Nottingham and St. Andrews. It should be noted that inclusion in the overall top ten does not indicate excellence in any particular field, and some universities with a very good reputation for specific subjects never enter the overall top ten.
Traditionally the post 1992 universities have done less well in these rankings. However, in recent years some of the new universities have steadily moved up the league tables and can now be found in the top half of all universities. For example, in the Guardian 2004 tables, Middlesex was ranked 19th overall, and Oxford Brookes was ranked 26th.
Universities that appear high in league tables often attract the best students, and maintain their high entry standards and low dropout rates. Thus, they maintain their high positions, while the universities lower down the table retain their low ones: a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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