The Flight to Quality Continues with Leading Universities in Pole Position

Posted by Richard Ward in , ,

Image courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons

Growth in full time student numbers across institutions does vary, but higher performing universities tend to outperform their counterparts, with some notable exceptions.

Between 2011 and 2015, universities that have ranked higher, as provided by The Times Higher Education World University Rankings (THE), have tended to see greater growth in full time students than their lesser performing counterparts.

There are however some significant outperformers. For example, Coventry University and Lincoln University, despite being placed within the bracket of the best 601-800 universities worldwide, have reported growth in full time students of 26.3% and 15.6% respectively between 2011 and 2015.

Meanwhile at the other end of the scale, for universities where rankings are available, Kingston University has witnessed a drop in numbers of just over 20%, despite being categorised in the same bracket as Coventry.

University Ranking vs Student Growth

Source: HESA, The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015-2016

1. For the top 200 global universities individual rankings are available, whilst those ranked lower than 200th place are categorised into an appropriate banding, as provided by The Times Higher Education World University Ranking.
2. An average of the banding when applicable has been used for the purpose of plotting the above chart.
3. One standard deviation above and below the linear trend line has been used to highlight outliers

The general trend is further highlighted when looking at the best and worst performers. The ten universities with lowest growth have an average ranking of 484. By comparison those that have grown most quickly over the past 4 years have averaged a ranking of 250. However, this ranking drops substantially to 137, once you discount the outperformers of Coventry and Lincoln.

Amongst all institutions the standout performer by far is University College London (UCL), reporting growth of 36.0% between the years 2011 and 2015. The institution also happens to rank as the 14th best university worldwide. In particular, UCL also recorded growth between 2014 and 2015 of 15.5% making it the best year-on-year performer as well.

The UK's highest ranking universities however, namely Oxford and Cambridge, have fared less well, reporting growth of 1.9% and -1.54%. This clearly indicates that factors other than reputation do come into play. It's been estimated that it costs £16,000 a year to educate an Oxford student, well above the current £9,000 a year ceiling for tuition fees. This could increasingly leave the institution out of pocket if it were to increase its annual enrolment significantly and may partly account for the lack of growth.

Another factor that may come into play is the personalised teaching time offered by both of the esteemed universities. Sometimes known as supervisions or tutorials they can consist of as little as one to two students at a time discussing work with subject experts. Such personalised tuition clearly limits the ability to recruit more students when compared to high growth institutions with predominately larger teaching groups.

Outside of those directly included within the Times Higher Education World University rankings, London Met University has seen a massive 31.8% reduction in full time student numbers between 2011 and 2015. This can however be partly attributed to their current restructuring that will see students moved from three campuses to one.

In addition, in 2012 their right to recruit foreign students was withdrawn following what was dubbed a "serious systemic failure" in monitoring its international student body. Although it was subsequently reinstated its reputation and therefore recruitment has reportedly taken a hit.

The perception of value for money, a by-product of student fees and the perceived quality of an institution, has been steadily falling. The 2016 Annual Student Academic Experience Survey conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute and the Higher Education Academy reported that only 37% of UK domiciled respondents felt they were receiving good value for money, down from 52%in 2012.

With such dissatisfaction reported amongst students, the quality of an institution could well become an ever important factor when choosing a preferred university.