Birkbeck mulls withdrawing from domestic league tables

University says its mission and nature of its students ‘make it difficult to climb much above 90’ in UK rankings

October 3, 2018
Podium of university ranking winners
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A UK university is considering withdrawing from domestic league tables in order to safeguard its reputation and prevent issues around student and staff recruitment.

A report from the strategic planning committee to governors at Birkbeck, University of London, seen by Times Higher Education, recommends that the institution withdraw from the UK’s main three domestic rankings – the Complete University Guide, The Guardian and The Times/Sunday Times – from 2019.

The report, which is dated 27 June 2018, says that the league tables “do not reflect Birkbeck’s reputation as a high-quality research-intensive provider”, noting that the UK’s research excellence framework and teaching excellence framework better reflect the institution’s “standing in the sector”.

It adds that Birkbeck’s low ranking in domestic tables “could have a negative reputational impact on undergraduate students, postgraduate students and staff”, which could “negatively impact on recruitment of students and staff”. It also claims that Birkbeck is “genuinely different” from other institutions that appear in league tables because of its “heritage as a part-time provider”.

“Birkbeck’s mission and nature of our students make it difficult for Birkbeck to climb much above 90 in the institutional rankings,” the report says, adding that institutions score higher in league tables if they admit students with higher grades, which is “contrary to Birkbeck’s widening access mission”.

Birkbeck was ranked 125th and 131st in the UK in the latest rankings from the Complete University Guide and The Times/Sunday Times, respectively, and it was placed 115th out of 121 in The Guardian’s most recent table.

The report says that Birkbeck will highlight its success in international rankings instead. In general, it does “much better in the world rankings than the UK ones” because the global exercises use academic reputation surveys and indicators of citation impact instead of the National Student Survey, entry grades and retention rates, it says. Birkbeck is ranked in the 301-350 band in the 2019 THE World University Rankings, published last month.

The document adds that if Birkbeck leaves the domestic league tables, “it would be with a view to not going back in”.

A spokesman at Birkbeck said that the university was “considering a change of focus with regard to domestic league tables and should be able to provide further information on this in the coming weeks”.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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