League tables

June 21, 1996

On May 24 The THES again published the raw data used by The Times to compile its annual integrated league table of United Kingdom universities with the aims of explaining The Times table and, incidentally, demonstrating the diversity of the system. League tables inevitably have their critics and the true test is the quality of the data used. There were a number of errors and omissions. One, the omission of a number of institutions from the student accommodation table, was corrected immediately as it originated in this office.

A number of objections related either to the methodology used by The Times and its consultants or to the reliability of the data used. As in past years The THES has passed on the substance of these complaints to Times consultants.

One constant complaint was that this time the data had not been checked with institutions before publication. In past years, when Times consultants were faced with the task of collating data from a number of published sources, including annual reports and similar publications, the data so derived was sent to institutions prior to publication. The advent of more reliable centrally available statistics was considered by The Times to obviate this need this year. When gaps appeared in the published statistics alternative sources were sought by The Times but its production schedule precluded a return to the past practice.

Student:staff ratios, student accommodation and library spending tables used total student numbers as the basis for the calculation. There have been objections that this distorts the outcome against institutions with large proportions of part-time students, or those with extensive franchising arrangements.

The University of Loughborough complained that the accommodation table, based on returns to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, failed to reflect the fact that the census date was after final-year students had left, effectively depressing their rate and affecting their position in the table. HESA data is the most authoritative available, and many other institutions would by definition be in the same position.

Another apparent error in HESA data supplied to The Times had the effect of exaggerating the percentage of firsts obtained by students at University College Chester. It recorded 1.37 per cent of firsts, not the 33 per cent calculated on HESA data. Similarly, the entry requirements table, based on average A-level scores, ignores those students who enter with other qualifications and fails to reflect the effect of subject mix.

A number of institutions, organisations and individuals drew attention to the lack of clarity and unreliability of the completion rate table. This was the percentage of those completing their degrees as a percentage of the total sessional population, and was ranked from the lowest to the highest. The Times felt the data was too unreliable to include but its decision was reached after The THES went to press on the assumption that it was being included.

The THES did not publish the outcome of the Research Assessment Exercise - it had done so in 1995 and the table was obviously identical.

The following methodologies were used: Entry requirements: Average points score of undergraduates entering degree courses in 1994, based where possible on the qualifications achieved.

Student accommodation: Numbers in institutional property as a percentage of total.

Library spending: Spending per full-time equivalent student on books, periodicals and staff.

Student:staff ratio 1993/94 average based on a variety of sources. Percentage based on total academic staff and total session population of students.

First class: Firsts as a percentage of total numbers of students International students: Non-UK and non-EU students as a percentage of the total.

Completion Rates: Students completing as a percentage of sessional total.

Employment, Unemployed, Research or Further Study: The Universities Statistical Record data published was accurate for the "old" universities except in the case of the London colleges.

The correct percentage figures are in the table below:

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