Depending on the country I am in, institution ranking can mean everything or nothing to students. It’s safe to say that in most cases rankings are a very important factor in deciding on a university, but it’s interesting to note that students often don’t understand what rankings actually mean and / or how they work.
Across the globe there are countless ranking systems, however today I would like to look at the UK system, which will commonly be either the Times or Guardian rankings. The Times occupies the world of academia and as such is typically respected due to research-focused criteria, whereas the Guardian table is largely based in student experience & satisfaction. For the average international student choosing to study in the UK I personally recommend the Guardian, though this is a personal choice that many may disagree with.
Once you pick a system you can begin to look at the rankings themselves. The first thing to consider is that each institution will have an overall ranking that amalgamates all course and faculty performance into one value, and a number of individual course rankings to measure how each individual programme stacks up against the competition. The majority of students will look at the former, when the latter may actually be more applicable to their decision.
Take this example, say you want to study BEng Mechanical Engineering; many students / recruitment agents will go straight to the rankings table and try to find the highest ranking University. For example, one desirably ranked option could be City University London – you think “wow, great overall ranking (21st in UK), great location and they offer BEng!” I will apply here!
Now, don’t get me wrong, City is an amazing University I would happily pay to study at / recommend. BUT you may be surprised to hear that, for example, Plymouth University, an institution you may never have considered, has a BEng Degree individually ranked 13th in the UK, despite their overall ranking being 61, much lower than City’s 21st overall and hence easy to overlook. But City’s BEng course happens to share 42nd spot with University of Bolton for BEng, who might I add occupy last place on the overall table at 120th…
Therefore, before you simply look at the league tables (Guardian in this case), make sure you keep the above in mind. This will ensure you get the most relevant information to inform your study decisions.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks for similar ranking information on Australia, USA & Canada!