Oxford to publish official league table for colleges

November 12, 2004

Oxford University plans to reveal the academic performance of students graduating from each of its 30 colleges in an official annual table after The Times Higher reported concerns that the unofficial Norrington Table rankings have been blighted by allegations of dirty tricks and inaccuracy.

Oxford confirmed this week that it hopes to publish official figures each year showing which colleges produce the most, and least, graduates with top degrees.

The move came as an internal document, circulated to college heads, showed dramatic variations between this year's official figures and those published in the unofficial Norrington Table.

The table, conceived in 1962 by Sir Arthur Norrington, then president of Trinity College, ranks colleges according to the proportion of students with the best degrees. After numerous attempts by the university to prevent its publication, in recent years it has been unofficially compiled for newspapers by enterprising undergraduate students who simply take the data from results lists posted in each college.

But as The Times Higher reported in June, college heads claimed that this year's table had been rendered invalid by the Data Protection Act, which allows students to keep their exam results private and leaves no way of knowing how many students have withheld their results.

Michael Beloff, president of Trinity, said at the time: "How much interest would there be in a premier league table that omitted an unidentified number of matches?"

John Blake, president of the student union, warned that the table could be vulnerable to dirty tricks, with colleges able to encourage students likely to obtain low degree classifications to withhold their results.

This week it emerged that Oxford had circulated an internal document to college heads revealing the official data.

David Holmes, Oxford's registrar, said: "I propose in future years to publish this statement as part of the regular Gazette students member supplement, normally published in late July."

The Oxford Student newspaper this week published a new ranking using the same methodology as Norrington, but using the university's official data.

It showed that the Norrington Table omitted results of 200 students - using 2,793 instead of the official 3,103 graduates.

The official figures led to colleges moving up or down the unofficial table by up to 13 places, with only seven of the 30 colleges placed correctly in Norrington. St Catherine's College, third in Norrington, slipped 13 places to 16th. Worcester dropped nine places to 21st.

An Oxford spokeswoman said the university would not seek to rank colleges in a league table because of their different sizes and subject mix.

"However, this year a pilot exercise was conducted to collect finals results of the collges... we hope to make accurate information available in the future."

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