As aforementioned, the precise metrics and weighting used will differ from table to table. Subject tables will simply combine these numbers, and the ‘university league table’ will just average the subject data. However, common themes include:
• The proportion of graduates with ‘good’ degrees
, which is to say, 2.1s and firsts. The national average is around 50% 2.1s and 10% firsts, so the degree to which a particular course deviates from this can indicate one of several things: excellent (or above average) teaching; a particularly talented crop of undergraduates; or a course in which it is more easy than average to do well.
• Entry standards
, usually in the form of the average UCAS points total for the previous year’s starting cohort. This gives an indication of A level / IB performance and indirectly, the competitiveness of the entry process (since a very popular course with few places is likely to be able to pick more qualified candidates). Combinations of these two indicators result in the Value Added Scores
used by some tables (such as the guardian).
• Staff numbers
, in the form of a staff : student ratio, used as a rough-and-ready proxy for the amount of ‘student attention’. This unfortunately tells you bugger all about what it’s actually like to be taught in a department, since many staff may not teach undergraduates at all.
• Staff research scores
, usually derived from the last RAE (Research Assessment Exercise). The RAE is produced by the government as a means of judging research quality in order to dole out funding. Being at a department with cutting-edge researchers can be an excellent experience, but how much undergraduates will have to do with the research is somewhat unpredictable.
• Teaching scores and student satisfaction
, previously measured through the Teaching Quality Assessment (TQA), now increasingly being phased out in favour of the National Student Survey (NSS). The latter is a really excellent means of getting an insight into the student experience, and the results can be found on http://www.unistats.com
. This is probably the only insight into what it’s actually like to study at a department, and the results are often surprisingly at odds with other league table indicators.
• Graduate employment.
Universities follow up their graduates six months after graduation to find out what they have gone on to do, which is then published on unistats. League tables averages all this information (which on unistats is classified by job type) into one score, often out of 10 as an indicator of ‘graduate prospects’
. The other piece of information used is average starting salary
. Remember though that these surveys are conducted six months after graduation and so may not be representative of future earning potential.
• University spending,
On the face of this is a useful and good indicator of the amount of care universities take over their students’ facilities. However universities have started diverting funds from other worthy causes (like outreach programmes or scholarships, which are arguably better uses for their money but don’t count in league tables) into things that are included, like new computers, or gyms.