League tables are a great way of seeing which universities are the most well respected. They tend to examine a number of features including reputation, student satisfaction, job prospects, teaching quality, grade entry, research assessment and citations. However, because some place more emphasis on certain criteria, their results can vary drastically. In order to guide you through this minefield, we have gone through some of the most popular league tables and which factors they base their results on. Therefore, it is a good idea to first think about what aspect of university life is most important to you and to then chose a league table that reflects it.

Students sitting in a university lecture theatre listening to the lecturer

National Rankings


Complete University Guide

The Complete University Guide uses nine ranking criteria:

  • Academic services spend - how much money a university spends on each student’s academic services.
  • Completion - How many students at the university complete their degree.
  • Entry standards - the average number of UCAS points of each student under 21.
  • Facilities spend - how much money a university spends on facilities, per student.
  • Good honours - the percentage of students who gain a first or 2:1 degree.
  • Graduate prospects - how likely graduates are to get a job.
  • Research assessment/quality - how good the university’s research is, on average.
  • Student satisfaction - the student’s own evaluation of how satisfied they were with their university experience.
  • Student/staff ratio - the number of staff to students.

Each of the criteria is given equal importance except student satisfaction and research assessment, which are weighted 50% higher. This means that this is a good guide to use if the quality of teaching and the student experience are most important for you.


The Guardian

The Guardian uses eight different ranking criteria, each weighted between 5% and 17%. The eight criteria are:

  • Entry- The average grades that students have when they enter (16%)
  • Assessment and Feedback - How good staff feedback is for students (10%)
  • Job prospects- How likely graduates are to get a job (16%)
  • Spending per student- How much a university spends on each student (10%)
  • Staff/student ratio - the number of staff to students (16%)
  • Teaching quality - as rated by graduates of the course (10%)
  • Value added - This compares students' degree results with the qualifications they had when they started (16%)
  • Overall satisfaction- How student rate their university experience (5%)

Because of the “value added” criteria, the Guardian league table tends to skew results in favour of universities that take students with low A Level grades who graduate with either a first or 2:1 degrees. This means that highly ranked universities may appear far down the table as they are less likely to take student with lower grades. For this reason, students should take this table with a pinch of salt, unless you are predicted lower grades at A Level. In this case, the Guardian’s table could be quite useful.


The National Student Survey:

The National Student Survey is performed every year in the UK and asks current students to rank their institution on teaching, assessment and feedback, academic support, organisation and management, learning resources, personal development and overall satisfaction. This survey is an excellent way to see what other students actually think about the universities you are applying for. It can help you understand what the teaching and feedback is like, what the facilities are like and how good the social scene is.


International Rankings

International rankings tend to be more focused on research output and academic reputation, meaning they are more useful for undergraduate students who are thinking about studying for a PhD or a master’s or for those wanting to look for work overseas. Also, they tend to value the sciences more highly than the humanities, arts or social sciences. However, here are the most popular ones used around the world.


QS World Rankings

The QS World Rankings use 5 criteria:

  • Academic peer review - academics around the world rate the top universities. (40%)
  • Recruiter review- globally significant graduate recruiters rate the universities. (10%)
  • Faculty student ratio - the number of staff to students (20%)
  • Citations per faculty- The number of times that the work of a university’s academics has been cited in the last five years, divided by the number of academic staff. (20%)
  • International orientation- The number of international students and staff. (10%)

This ranking system places lots of emphasis on the way a university is perceived by others, meaning it can be a good way to gauge how academics and employers will view your degree.


The Times Higher Education World University Rankings

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings use five categories:

  • Teaching- The quality of the teaching according to graduates (30%)
  • Research- The quality of the research (30%)
  • Citations/Research Impact- How often work created at the university is cited by others (32.5%)
  • International Mix-  The number of international students and staff (5%)
  • Industry Income- How much income the university from its research (2.5%)


Academic Ranking of World Universities

The Academic Ranking of World Universities, also known as the Shanghai ranking, uses criteria which are largely academic and research orientated, including:

  • The number of alumni who have won Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (10%)
  • The number of members of staff who have won Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (20%)
  • The number of highly-cited researchers at the university (20%)
  • The number of articles published in Nature and Science (20%)
  • The Science Citation Index and Social Sciences Citation Index (20%)
  • The success of an institution in comparison to the number of staff and students (10%)


Leiden Ranking

The Leiden Ranking  is based on publications in Thomson Reuter's Web of Science database in the period 2005-2009. Only publications in the sciences and social sciences are included. In this way, universities that focus on science and social science will rank higher. Indicators of the scientific impact of a university are:

  • Mean citation score (MCS) - the average number of citations of the publications of a university.
  • Mean normalised citation score (MNCS) - the average number of citations of the publications of a university, normalised for field differences, publication year, and document type. For example, a MNCS value of two means that the publications of a university have been cited twice above the world average.
  • Proportion top 10% publications - the proportion of the publications of a university that, compared with other similar publications, belong to the top 10% most frequently cited.


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