Earlier this week, the Complete University Guide published the annual League Tables. While students welcome unbiased information on UK institutions, the League Tables 2021 have arrived at a time like no other in higher education’s history
With the rankings being based on how well UK institutions met a range of criteria over the past year (which was largely based on on-campus teaching) compared to such a different and varied delivery expected from the UK’s higher education providers this autumn, questions could be asked as to the relevance of the Complete University Guide and other ranking systems this year.
The 2021 League Table rankings matter not only for year 12 and S5 students who are looking to begin their UCAS applications for 2021, by which time we all hope that institutions will have returned to delivering their courses in-person and on-campus, but also for the year 13 and S6 students who are about to enter and finalise their higher education choices in Clearing 2020.
For the year 12 and S5 students commencing their studies as part of the 2021 intake, there is arguably no change in terms of the value of league tables as course delivery will hopefully have returned to their pre-coronavirus delivery methods, perhaps with the additional benefit of newly perfected technologies and teaching methods. However, for this year’s cohort, for whom our data has indicated that Clearing will be more important than ever before, The Complete University League Tables remain just as relevant and arguably more crucial as a guide to their higher education options. Indeed, the data clearly shows that students are actively seeking out up-to-date university rankings as they grapple with their higher education choices this year. On the Complete University Guide, web traffic on the 9th of June, the League Tables publication date, spiked considerably, mirroring user behaviour on the publication date for the tables last year.
This large uptake in traffic can be attributed to three factors. Firstly, students have for the past 25 years used the League Tables as part of their higher education research, they are recognised and trusted. In a year when their learning has been disrupted and there are so many questions about how they will be graded, how institutions will teach, and what their higher education options are, students have an undeniable need for a reputable source of university rankings.
Secondly, with other league tables publishing later in the year, students who need to finalise their higher education choices this summer are bereft of their usual sources of information. The Complete University Guide made the decision to go ahead with the publication of the 2021 League Tables in June so as to give students finalising their course choices in Clearing 2020 the information they need to inform their decisions. With the lack of similar publications this summer and before A-level results day, the importance of the Complete University Guide League Tables is magnified.
Thirdly and finally, the newly designed Complete University Guide website is more versatile and easier for students to use. Mobile friendly and personalised to the user’s preferences, the new League Table design allows students to filter the information by different ranking criteria and zone in on the aspects of an institution that they care most about. This highly customisable aspect of the Complete University Guide rankings, in addition to the new interface, makes it easy for students to find and understand the information they need.
The new website architecture also makes it easier for students to transition from the league tables to other key sources of information, while the new signposting features being launched across the site will inform researching students as to changes in start dates, how courses are being taught, and the dates for transitioning from online to in-person where this applies. The combination of the Complete University Guide’s League tables, information and features have allowed students to fill in the complete picture of those institutions and courses they are interested in. The rise in traffic on the Complete University Guide website since the new design was launched, and the dramatic spike in response to the League Tables 2021 publication, demonstrate that students are responding positively to the support offered by the new site.
The Complete University Guide offers students rankings based on a tried and tested methodology developed by experts in the field of higher education. The transparency of how the rankings are assessed make them highly trustworthy and personalised to a student’s priorities and needs, while the methodology itself remains an effective means of assessing institutions even in the current circumstances. The rankings are determined by taking into account 10 different ranking factors - Entry Standards, Student Satisfaction, Research Quality, Research Intensity, Graduate Prospects, Academic Services, Facilities Spend, Good Honours, Degree Completion and the Student to Staff Ratio. This comprehensive approach ensures not only that institutions are holistically assessed, but also that the final results reflect how well an institution is likely to adjust to the challenges and new requirements of delivering their courses during coronavirus.
For example, the inclusion of information on Facilities Spend and Academic Services, which include assessment of “a university’s expenditure on library and computing facilities (staff, books, journals, computer hardware and software, but not buildings)…” are key indicators as to how well an institution is going to be able to flex and pivot their services for online teaching and learning. While other factors such as Good Honours and Student to Staff Ratio are likely to be largely unaffected by one year of teaching in unusual circumstances, and so remain a valid and important factor in how universities are ranked.
With students unable to attend education fairs or open days, how students research and consider their higher education options will be different this year. Given the instability, confusion, and difficult choices currently facing students, higher education rankings and reviews are, if anything, more important to students as they face arguably a more challenging decision-making process than ever before.
Students considering their higher education choices will continue to consult a variety of sources, from peer reviews on Whatuni, to speaking with family, teachers and school counsellors. However, having the Complete University Guide League Tables as an objective and trusted source of information on how well UK institutions are performing, is if anything more essential for students considering their higher education options this year.