2014 Complete University Guide League Table

It’s spring and it’s time for the first league table of the season.

The Complete University Guide and league table for 2014 is now out. The details can be found on the Guide website together with lots of other analysis (including by subject, region and mission group)  and information on careers, fees etc.

The main table uses nine indicators: Student Satisfaction, Research Assessment, Entry Standards, Student:Staff Ratio; Spending on Academic Services; Spending on Student Facilities; Good Honours degrees achieved; Graduate Prospects and Completion. The Subject tables are based on four: Student Satisfaction, Research Assessment; Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects. The results tend to be fairly consistent year on year and there is not huge volatility in this table.

 Rank 2014  Rank 2013
1 (1) Cambridge
2 (3) Oxford
3 (2) LSE
4 (4) Imperial
5 (5) Durham
6 (6) St Andrews
7 (8) UCL
8 (6) Warwick
9 (10) Bath
10 (13) Exeter
11 (9) Lancaster
12 (12) York
13 (22) Surrey
14 (14) Loughborough
15 (11) Bristol
16 (20) Leicester
17 (23) Birmingham
18 (16) Edinburgh
19 (18) King’s
20 (27) UEA
20 (15) Southampton

So, little movement in the top 10 apart from the slight rejig to ensure Oxbridge dominance in the first two places. Glasgow and Nottingham slip out of the top 20 to be replaced by UEA, Birmingham and this year’s start performer at 13, the University of Surrey.

Communicating science. Though improv.

A surprising source of help with communicating science.

A great story in The Chronicle of Higher Education on an accolade for Alan Alda for his contribution to helping scientists communicate

In New York City this week, Mr. Alda is being honored at the university’s celebrity fund-raising gala for his central role in creating Stony Brook’s Center for Communicating Science. Its program, based on improvisational theater techniques, has trained people at about 60 universities across the country, and some of those people are using the techniques to train others at their own institutions. The idea “just caught fire,” Mr. Alda says.

Best known as the star of the M*A*S*H television series, Mr. Alda later was host of a science interview program on PBS for 13 years. Many of his guests, he observed, had trouble explaining their ideas to a general audience.


A solution, he thought, might be to teach scientists some basic improvisational skills. Though improv is commonly associated with comedy theater, it is, more fundamentally, the skill of listening to an audience and making corresponding adjustments in the delivery of a message.

During the film festival, Mr. Alda was seated next to Shirley Strum Kenny, then president of Stony Brook. As he had done at other universities across the country, he brought up his idea. Ms. Kenny, an English scholar, was immediately receptive. She says she had long wanted the institution to do more to prepare its students to explain scientific concepts to people who know less than they do, a skill they would surely need once they entered the work force.

It’s a really fascinating development and terrific to see how the approach is spreading across the US. This video about the Centre explains a bit more about its work:

Suspect we could learn a thing or two in the UK about the technique.

Quidditch World Cup 2013 update

Pottering in the sun

The Huffington Post carries a top sports story on the recent Quidditch World Cup held in Florida:

the majority of teams competing at this level have official uniforms names paying homage to the book series, like the Silicon Valley Skrewts and the Melbourne Manticores.

31Ljvaa4ynL._SL500_Spectators will find many of the same features from the books. Players throw balls or “quaffles” through ringed hoops for points and even can chase and capture the “snitch” to end matches.

And in case any Harry Potter diehards are wondering, yes, all the players also must maneuver around on broomsticks during gameplay. Much like the ability to dunk a basketball is restricted to a gifted few, however, real-life quidditch players have yet to take flight.

A previous post noted the popularity of quidditch in UK universities and its value as a recruitment tool. It seems though that the US, as host to the ‘world cup’ is leading the way in international quidditch competition. Or were there British teams there?

MPs with fake degrees

MPs in Pakistan convicted for faking academic qualifications

A post back in 2010 noted the planned check of over 1,000 politicians’ academic credentials. A law passed a decade ago requires all MPs to hold degrees and, according to a recent University World News report, it does seem that some have been less than totally honest about their academic records:


Following an order from the top court in Pakistan, lower courts have started convicting former members of parliament who contested the 2008 elections using fake degrees. Several politicians have been given jail sentences, and there are numerous cases now before lower courts, with judgments due soon.

Holding a degree qualification was a precondition for contesting the 2008 poll.

The cases were lodged against the lawmakers after Pakistan’s Supreme Court on 28 March ordered the lower judiciary and the election commission to take stern action against former MPs with fraudulent degrees, and to stop them from getting elected again in polls to be held on 11 May.

The apex court’s orders were based on its earlier verdict, passed in June 2010, which ordered the Higher Education Commission and the Election Commission of Pakistan, or ECP, to verify the degrees of all 1,095 parliamentarians and members of provincial assemblies.

The remainder of the story indicates that some of those convicted have received very small fines. Others have simply absconded. It is a rather strange law which does seem to encourage such behaviour.

2013 International Leadership Conference: Managing Global Universities

A reminder about this forthcoming conference taking place at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China.


The 2013 event, which takes place from Monday 4 – Thursday 7 November 2013 will mark the third anniversary of the International Leadership Conference. The conference has previously welcomed delegates from the UK, Denmark, China, Colombia, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, the US and Belgium. The event is designed for senior leaders to discuss and share best practice on important topics around the internationalisation of higher education.

Full details about the International Leadership Conference can be found here.

Defining ‘education hubs’

A helpful approach to definition in this rather vague area.

iskandar educity

An earlier post noted that there were rather a lot of ‘education hubs’ around the world. This Inside Higher Ed report on the recent Going Global event highlights comments from Jane Knight of the University of Toronto who has sought to define education hubs a little more precisely. Knight studied six hubs closely to assess their characteristics and proposed a simple schema for classifying hubs:

While all may aim to attract foreign students and foreign branch campuses, they strive to be three main things, she said:

Student hubs, which seek to attract local and foreign students.

Talent hubs, which seek to develop the skilled people who will stay in the country.

Knowledge hubs, which seek to build research infrastructure.

Knight classifies her six hubs as follows:


Knight said that the goals for the hub influence who the players are — and that educators may not be the key players when a country is focused, for example, on becoming a knowledge hub. Rather, businesses or government officials who deal with immigration policy may become key players. She also said that thinking about goals also shifts away from simply counting the number of branch campuses — a figure that may be less important in some hubs.

While education hubs will continue to evolve, they represent an important “third stage” in transnational education, she said. The first was student mobility, with students leaving their homes for a postsecondary education. The second was institutional mobility, when colleges set up dual degrees or branch campuses in other countries. Hubs involve the first two stages, but take them to a new level, she said.

It’s a helpful approach, especially when you consider how many places do claim to be an education hub.

Students ‘swayed by league tables’

Some rather unsurprising research findings here.

The Guardian has a report on the impact of university league tables on prospective students. And in what might be the least surprising research finding of the year to date reports that league tables are influential:


Prospective students are increasingly influenced by university league tables when deciding where to study, according to research that found rises and falls within league standings provoking sharp changes in numbers of applications.

The research by economists at Royal Holloway, University of London, found that individual departments moving up a subject-level league table experienced a rise in applications of almost 5%, with the increase most pronounced among overseas applicants.

They also found that the influence of league table standings has increased since the introduction of tuition fees, suggesting that students are now more aware of the reputation and relative standings of university departments.

There is more though. Not only do league table rankings influence students and help with applications they are worth paying attention to if you want to protect your position and are going to be even more significant in future:

The authors – Xiaoxuan Jia, a researcher, and Arnaud Chevalier, senior lecturer in economics at Royal Holloway – conclude that universities should take care to guard their rankings, arguing: “Universities cannot afford to neglect their performance on league tables so long as they wish to establish and maintain a consistent reputation to attract the best of students.”

The emphasis on league table rankings is likely to increase as a result of new regulations relaxing the cap on student numbers for universities accepting students achieving AAB or higher in A-levels.

But in what is perhaps the most surprising of all the comments here, there is the proposal is made that resource allocation should be determined using ranking criteria:

The authors even suggest that university administrators “review their resource allocation based on the criteria used to construct those league tables on a regular basis, to improve and sustain their respective ranking performance”.

Just a bit of fun. I hope.

Latest campus craze? Humans v Zombies

And some have tried to stop this innocent fun…


According to The Chronicle of Higher Education , the craze that is the Humans versus Zombies game does continue on campuses, despite the efforts of “killjoys” to prevent it:

Napa Valley College officials are the latest to interfere with a popular campus-based game of tag called Humans vs. Zombies. More than 600 campuses in the United States play some version of the game, which originated at Goucher College.

To win, zombie players try to “infect” or tag the humans, thereby turning them into zombies, and the humans must protect one another from being tagged. Sometimes the teams also have missions to complete. In some iterations, the tags are tracked with person-specific ID cards, and then uploaded to a Web site. In others, as soon as you get hit with a Nerf dart, you’re dead. Well, undead. A game can last days or weeks, or merely until there are no “humans” left.

Must say it all sounds very exciting indeed. It also offers an entertaining analogy for the state of higher education more generally.

University league tables: buying success?

Australian universities are paying big salaries for rankers

Inside Higher Ed has a report on at least a couple of Australian institutions appointing league table specialists:

Some Australian universities are paying about $100,000 a year each to employ full-time managers dedicated to working with ranking agencies and developing strategies aimed at climbing league tables.

The University of New South Wales recently advertised for a manager of strategic reputation, while La Trobe University was seeking a manager of institutional rankings. For $100,000, responsibilities included maintaining relationships with ranking agencies to “maximize” or “optimize” their positions in rankings.

Observers say such positions highlight the growing importance of rankings in influencing research and teaching plans. But there are concerns that the professionalized management of rankings risks warping university strategies and may prove more a marketing effort than an effort to boost the substance of an institution’s performance.


league tables pic

The deputy vice chancellor at New South Wales, Les Field, said the position wasn’t new and was part of a team that ensured the information sent to annual data collections and the ranking agencies was accurate.
“It’s essential to have a team dedicated to getting our numbers right as well as providing the analysis on which we can direct the research effort into the future,” Field said. (Several American universities have been ensnared in controversies over their flawed — and in some cases seemingly gamed — reporting of data to rankings organizations. So far Australian universities have not been similarly besmirched.)

Whilst the work to be undertaken by these people in terms of data collection and analysis will undoubtedly be beneficial it is hard to get away from the idea that these appointments sound like an attempt to achieve a quick fix in terms of institutional league table performance. Will it pay off? Given the time lags involved with the data used it will be quite a few years before we find out.

Broadcasting university performance

Very public reports on institutional performance.

Accessible university performance data.


Rather impressed by this Performance Tracker which is concerned with reporting in a very accessible way on the progress of Michigan’s public universities:


The achievement of Michigan’s public universities is a critical factor as we look to participate in the knowledge economy of tomorrow. A well-educated, skilled talent base will help our state develop and attract new business opportunities. Universities also drive research and development, bring thousands of new faces into our state, and build lasting partnerships that advance our communities.

These goals matter to all of us, and so does the performance of Michigan’s higher education system. This website offers an overview of Michigan’s higher education achievement nationally, and shows how our universities are acting as incubators of future economic growth and change.

There is a great deal of very interesting data in here from graduation rates to tuition fees and SSRs to salary costs. Sensibly, the bench marking is against peer institutions. Will we see others adopting a similar approach? And might it catch on in the UK?

The student body. For sale

On “body commodification”.
Last year saw a rash of rather prurient press stories about students acting as escorts to help with university fees. Although vastly over-stated there are parallels with some developments recently reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

The sale of bodily goods or services—”body commodification”—is nothing new among college students. But strides in medical technology, the encroachment of market values on all facets of life, and the reach and culture of the Internet have combined to create a fertile environment for people who want or need to exploit the value of their skin or what lies beneath it—including students struggling to cover the rising cost of college in this sluggish economy.


Students sell plasma, take requests to perform custom erotic acts on Web cameras, or offer themselves as guinea pigs in paid drug trials. A master’s student in Penfield, N.Y., says she was kicked out of her social-work program last June for snuggling with strangers—no sex allowed—for $60 an hour. A handful of Web sites, like SeekingArrangement.com, promise introductions to young and attractive men and women—often students—for “mutually beneficial relationships.” An advertisement in campus newspapers at three elite colleges offers $35,000 for the eggs of a young woman with an SAT score above 1400. And though no one in the United States is openly selling kidneys from live donors, Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics started receiving inquiries from financially desperate people after it posted an article on its Web site in 1998 exploring the ethical issues that would surround such a market.

It’s not a terribly attractive prospect but I fear we are going to see more of this kind of thing.