A new academic year brings a new release of the University League tables, and with it, what seems to be very bad news. It appears that the University of York is slipping in standards, as measured categorically by each separate establishment.
Last year, the Sunday Times placed York eleventh on the UK University league table. However, it has since slipped to sixteenth, being overtaken by Loughborough and the University of East Anglia.
The Complete University Guide has ranked York 14th, down from a modest 12th last year, and the Guardian has kept York at 16th from last year.
The question is, why is York slipping? Comparing our university to other institutions in the top 20 of the Sunday Times shows two potential answers right away. York has one of the highest ratios of students to staff, and spends close to the least on facilities and staff.
Suppose there is a correlation there. Should more staff be employed in order to raise the rankings? Would that make the University itself better, or would it just go to improve our statistical rankings?
A further scan of the table shows that York has the second-worst graduate prospects in the Top 20, above only the University of East Anglia. The Sunday Times states that “scores in the National Student Survey – a traditional strength of the university – slipped in 2014”.
Perhaps we are not all happy to be here, with the considerable drop in student satisfaction to 54th in the UK.
A closer inspection of York’s ranking on the Sunday Times table shows that student satisfaction is especially low in Nursing (70.6 per cent), and this is reflected in the specific subject league table. At the other end of the spectrum, Archeology has received the greatest student satisfaction of 94.7 per cent, the highest of any university’s archeological happiness.
These assertions are all well and good, and can show the university’s administration a lot of areas to improve. However, can the tables really be taken without a pinch of salt?
The University League Table classification has come under fire for judgements on performance linked to research and reputation. Bernard Longden from Liverpool Hope University has called for the US-based Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education to be used for ranking, to reflect the different strengths of all universities.
Appeals have been made against the current “U-Multirank” system, which lets students choose categories to compare as consumers: personal conflicts may flaw the data.
However, if a student has a problem with an institution, then surely it is right to reflect on the institution.
Obviously, the various tables will have a huge amount of predisposed influences from the league’s architects.
League tables tend to heavily weight research as the most important measurement, and fail to properly account for teaching quality according to The Cambridge Student. Yet for York, this favours our standing in the league tables.
Research remains renowned, considering our young age according to all three University League Tables. Additionally, York has made a swift move up the world rankings from 124th to 120th in the Sunday Times table.
The indicators used to rank universities are extremely subjective, but it’s near impossible to create a table without comparing measures in different proportions. Data is limited, which has led to a tendency to “count what can be measured rather than measuring what counts”, as reported by TCS.
The league tables will inevitably affect student applications, but surely York will continue to see numbers rise in line with continued population growth. Personally, it’s almost disheartening to see York slide down the ranks, but they still remain in the top 20. Student satisfaction ought to be higher, especially with an astounding number of services on campus.
Teaching quality is subjectively measured, however maybe it’s time to hire more staff if this indicator really is as important as it’s made out to be. Which brings another question, how important are these rankings? Even if the tables reflect a slip in York’s ranking, its long-standing reputation will continue to be upheld.