Are UK Universities Overrating the Rankings?

Posted by Kristina Murkett

UK universities continue to dominate international rankings - last week, the Times Higher Education Magazine published a reputational table showing that Oxford and Cambridge have overtaken US rivals to be named second and third universities in the world.

The table, based on the largest invitation-only survey of senior academics across the world, places six other UK universities - Imperial College London, University College London, London School of Economics and Political Science, University of Edinburgh, King's College London and University of Chester">ManChester - in the top 50.

Yet not everyone agrees in idolising league tables. Valerie Woolston, a high-profile academic at the University of Maryland (whose own position has dropped from 97 to 132 in the THE's world rankings) has criticised universities for spending too much time on chasing reputations in rankings rather than focusing on innovation.

Professor Woolston said that: 'Rankings are very important for every university president. You can pick and choose the one that's most favourable depending on which report you look at. Who knows what students look at when they look at rankings. It's just that one is very specific and they are very different from one another.'

She also said that students should be more sophisticated in their search for the best universities, as rankings do not paint a nuanced picture of where it would be best to study. Furthermore, if you're doing a PhD, 'you have to look at an individual faculty member. It's something you can't go to a ranking for.'

Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: 'In particular, league tables are often better measures of prestige and research than of high-quality teaching. Moreover, the compilers are forever changing their methodologies so they aren't easy to track even if you want to do so.'

Image courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons.