One of the questions we are most regularly asked is “which is the best university?” and the reply always has to be “what do you mean by ‘best’?”
For best means different things to different people. Do you mean the best in terms of the University League tables? Do you mean best for student employment? Do you mean the best place for student satisfaction? Do you mean the best university in terms of where the big companies recruit from? There are so many different criteria to consider and that is before we even get started on the different degree programmes! In this blog, Fiona McKenzie shares some of her top tips when looking at university rankings.
University League Tables – the myths and the legends
If you are looking at the University league tables then the annual Sunday Times table is a good starting place – Oxford and Cambridge vie for number 1 and 2 on the list every year and the same names tend to feature each time in a different order.
This ranking is based on a wide number of criteria which include student satisfaction with teaching quality, research quality, graduate prospects, entrance qualifications held by new students, degree results achieved, student/staff ratios, service and facilities spend, and degree completion rates.
But this list can vary widely from the one published by the Guardian for example and if you take the QS World University Rankings you may find that the British Universities appear in a different order again when compared to their international counterparts.
I think for most students, much as they appreciate learning for the pleasure of knowing more about their subject, recognise that the end goal is to be in employment of some kind. Therefore it is interesting to look at where the Magic Circle Law firms and the Big 4 Accountancy companies, among others, go to recruit. This shows a rather different picture, whilst some of the university names may have featured in the Sunday Times list they appear here in a very different order.
And if we take this one step further and look at the employment statistics for the different universities, the names change completely.
Not many people will have heard of some of these universities – Robert Gordon, for example, runs one of the UK’s leading Oil and Gas programmes, which given its proximity to the oil capital of the UK, Aberdeen, is hardly surprising.
But what is interesting about Robert Gordon is that all of their courses across the different disciplines are designed with industry professionals, many of them have part of a professional qualification embedded in the degree and all of them feature a year in industry as a compulsory part of the 4 year programme. No wonder their graduates are snapped up as soon as they leave!
So when asked about which university is best, I counsel students to think carefully about what it is they want to achieve from their university years and what constitutes the “best” for them.
University League Tables and rankings should always be analysed with a degree of caution and I would strongly suggest not slavishly picking 5 universities from a ranking table just because they are at the top.
Nothing replaces the research that each student should undertake to make sure they understand about each individual university and what makes up the degree programmes that they offer. By investing the time, this is the only way to ensure you find the right university for you.