York’s league-table slip: what does it mean?

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.

5 comments

  1. 4 Oct ’14 at 9:21 am

    Rohan Banerjee

    Personally, I always felt York’s problem was not knowing what sort of university it wanted to be. In the prospectus, you get sold tradition with the shameless pics of Hes Hall and plugs for the collegiate system; but once you arrive you’re met with a prefabbed reality and an emphasis on “modernism,” “breakthrough” or “cutting edge.”

    See, all the ingredients for York to be a great university are there: historic city, top entry requirements, some first rate faculty, buzzing nightlife (unique at least) and a very animated political scene – this in turn leads to top student media…..

    But whereas Durham is unapologetically what it says on the tin – a faux-oxbridge in the north – and Warwick prides itself on its 60s identity away from all that lark, York is caught somewhere in the middle.

    It could never decide what it wanted to be. So you have half the university slamming traditions and trying to drag us along with flat roof tops and saying that we’re some cosmo uprising in the north; and then you have another half who are trying to kid themselves that the campus has an awful lot of red brick.

    When it comes to league tables, a disproportionate amount of the criteria goes on student satisfaction, and because of the division I’ve just described, that’s why York’s approval ratings are so mixed.

    In terms of teaching, I can only comment on my own department. Politics was a great department, if a little skewed towards one way of thinking. They were mostly clever and accommodating staff, but the syllabus was suited to one type of student, make no mistake.

    York must be a good university or we wouldn’t have applied to it. But while it was near the top when I applied, it’s now wrestling with its identity in mid table. Bit like my football team really.

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  2. 1 Jul ’15 at 4:01 pm

    Naughty Alumni

    I guess I was one of the lucky ones, graduating at a time when York was marginally in the top 10. Managed to attain a decent job in the city and earn a decent salary but I fear such opportunity will be harder for the younger graduates. Meeting York students on internships and graduate schemes at banks or professional services firms in London is becoming increasingly rare. Perhaps, graduates like to stay up North but for the ambitious ones I have spoken it is difficult to secure a place, partly because university ranking matters. Competition is intense and York is no longer a great name it used to be.

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  3. 1 Jul ’15 at 4:06 pm

    Naughty Alumni

    Appreciate this is an old article but I wrote a response because looking at the ranking today, York has dropped again. Shameful.

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  4. Pretty basic. when I went to York it was consistently in the top 10, and, the student population was … different than it is now. By the time we hit our third year, everyone was growing concerned with the students arriving – they seemed uneducated, loud … more St John than university. With them came terrible / embarresisng courses like TFTV and the quality of education at York… slipped. Gone were the days of animated political debates and a solid dose of building your own traditions. Fusion slipped from being a great display of the arts to nothing more than a variety show aimed at not offending anybody and including everybody.

    In short, encourage ambition, drop TFTV, host proper debates, slow down the huge expansion project and look back what used to work for York. Stop letting people with rubbish A levels cross the door, too. Traditional subjects lend themselves much better to informed, modern thinking than quasi subjects and GCSE’s in Dance. Nobody at York should have less than A*AA and everyone should be pushed to their academic limit. York grads are writers, politicians, bankers and lawyers. Lets keep it that way.

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  5. **I’m typing on my phone – please excuse typos in above post – I recognise the irony someone will inevitably point out!**

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