13 January 2011

University League Tables and Participation

The data in the Table below has been updated in a later post.

In a previous post ( University Entrance - Today's 11+? ) I pointed out that the current participation rate in higher education in the UK was at a similar level to 11+ success and grammar school attendance in the 1960s.  At that time, however, university was for an elite minority – less than 10% of the under 21 age group. Although this is no longer the case, there is a perception of there being an institutional elite, and arguably, for those choosing which universities to apply to and for recruiters of graduates, the perception can be more important than the reality. This post looks at some possible shapers of these perceptions ('league tables' and elite groupings), and then revisits the statistics of participation.

There are currently four league tables of UK universities published by the Independent, Guardian, Sunday Times and Times newspapers. Taking the top 30 in each case, they consist of 41 different institutions. However, 22 of the 41 feature in all four tables. Also, 11 of the 41 feature in only one, so an overall top 30 can be identified as those institutions appearing in more than one league table, and their rankings can be combined as below. There are three other groupings of highly-rated institutions which can be put alongside the league tables. The Russell Group of 20 major research universities is regarded as being an elite. Also, the Sutton Trust, which looks at issues of social mobility and access to higher education, has identified for its purposes a group of 13 elite universities and a larger group of 30 which it regards as highly selective. The table below indicates which of the 'Top 30' universities fall into these three groups (RG, ST13 and STHS respectively).

A graph in the previous post showed how university participation has increased since the 1960s. Using UCAS statistics for the undergraduate numbers at each university, the proportion of the under 21’s which various groupings of universities within the 'Top 30' are recruiting can be calculated, and the levels are indicated on the new graph below.  The 4.2% for the 'Top 12' cater for the mid-60s level of participation

Of course, there are obvious limitations in drawing up a league table of universities – there are going to be excellent courses and very able students in the many unlisted institutions. Individual circumstances can be overriding as well – if your family owns a chain of golf courses, you might well want to go for the best golf course management degree wherever it may. However, if your aspiration is to take a humanities degree – one of the many flavours of history, say – but then move into management, the perception a future employer may have of your university is a factor which can’t be ignored. Being at one of the universities in the table above, particularly in the top half, is unlikely to stand in your way; although it won’t be the only thing they will be looking for.

Notes on the Table and Chart

As last time, this is a blog post not a PhD thesis, so I have used a broad brush with the data.

From 1950 to 1998 the graph shows the Age Participation Index (API) which was defined as the number of UK-domiciled young (aged less than 21) initial entrants to full-time and sandwich undergraduate courses of higher education, expressed as a proportion of the averaged 18 to 19 year old GB population. After 1999 the data is for the Higher Education Initial Participation Rate HEIPR20 (17-20 year olds English domiciled and in English Welsh and Scottish institutions).

Positions in the individual league tables were added (Oxford, 1st in all four, scoring 4 etc). A university unplaced in a particular league table was assumed to be 31st equal if it appeared in the other three tables, 32nd equal if it appeared in only one other table. UCAS provides numbers for undergraduates for each university, (all courses are assumed here to be of three years), and percentages for mature and international students. Hence the places available to the HEIPR20 contingent, the recent overall size and participation rate for this being provided by the BIS Department. The decimal place in the statistics for the groupings (eg Russell Group 9.2%) should probably be ignored.

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