It is clear from the popularity of the Times university guide and the annual furore and debate surrounding this and many similar UK university ranking articles that this is a topic of high importance and interest across the nation. We have carried out research across a range of varied criteria and spoken directly to students from universities across the country to bring you a UK university league table with a difference.

The quality and value of an education at any given university is of course entirely dependent on the characteristics and needs of the individual student. An undergraduate who might reach top honours at one university might struggle and be unhappy at another, completely regardless of the universities’ ranking, or which is considered the ‘top university’ in the UK.

Furthermore, one prospective student might consider the academic ranking of a potential university to be of paramount importance, whilst another might make their selection based on entirely different criteria, being more interested in the social life they are likely to experience in a given university city, or the funding available to help them through the course at other UK universities.

So rather than try to put the universities in ranking order or pick out the single ‘top university’, we have used the findings of our research and the personal testimony of current students to identify the best UK universities for each of 10 completely different selection criteria. We hope this will be helpful to as broad a range of prospective students as possible, and may even throw up a few surprises! Here, in no particular order, are our results…

1. Top UK University for spending per student: Oxford

Boasting new zoology and biomedical research buildings, recently refurbished faculty buildings, a newly built University Club including a bar and sports facilities, and work underway on new accommodation at Somerville College, it is not difficult to see why Oxford University topped this year’s poll for the greatest amount of spending per student.

In addition, the university offers a wide range of travel, research and hardship grants, offering its students a great deal of financial support and assistance, helping to maintain its record of one of the lowest drop-out rates in the UK at only 1% compared to the national average of 7.2%.

2. Top UK University for research: Cambridge

It was no surprise when Cambridge was named this year’s top UK University for research, given its record as one of the world’s leading research universities and the fact that it has more than 80 Nobel prizes to its credit, more than any other university in the world.

New buildings and refurbishments across the university ensure that research not only continues to flourish but is accessible and beneficial to students at all levels of the university, across a wide range of subjects, from criminology, cosmology and metabolic science, to mathematics, manufacturing and plant science.

3. Top UK University for student living experience and halls: Durham

Winning the National Student Housing Survey for best student living experience and achieving acclaim for the quality of its halls, Durham is named the top UK University for those looking for an enjoyable and stimulating living environment.

Sharing the collegiate system for which Oxford and Cambridge Universities are famous, Durham provides a close, community atmosphere, whilst students report that its position as the prominent focal point for the local area promotes a “strong sense of student identity”. Its frequent top 10 finishes in best UK universities rankings such as the Times university guide also confirm its academic excellence, making this a strong contender for the all-round UK University of choice.

4. Top UK University for student to staff ratio: UCL

With 8.9 students per staff member UCL tops this year’s university ranking for student/staff ratio, confirming the university’s reputation for intense attention to its students and top class tutorials.

“The quality of our supervisions is really fantastic,” explains one second year English student; “compared to my friends at different universities I definitely have smaller classes and so encouragement to contribute to the class and get involved in debate and discussion is much greater. I also feel like my teachers all know who I am and have the time to give me invaluable individual help and feedback, which might not be possible if the student to staff ratio wasn’t so good.”

5. Top UK University for graduate employment: Imperial College London

According to independent research undertaken by the complete university guide for 2011, Imperial College London is the top UK University for graduate employment; with 86% of students successfully in work 6 months after graduation.

6. Top UK University for student satisfaction: St Andrews

In an exhaustive recent poll by the complete university guide, St Andrews University in Scotland topped the student satisfaction rankings, with an extremely impressive 93% of students happy with the level of teaching they had received during their course. This adds to the university’s enviable reputation as an extremely warm and community-focused centre for academic study.

7. Top UK University for academic specificity: LSE

For those wishing to concentrate exclusively on their specialist subjects, the London School of Economics is unique in its concentration on teaching and research across the full range of social, political and economic sciences.

The findings of the UK Research Assessment Exercise, which showed that LSE had the highest percentage of world-leading research of any UK University proved the benefits of close concentration on a small area of the academic spectrum, and it often tops national tables of excellence for its specific subjects.

8. Top UK University for business links: Warwick

Warwick was one of the first UK universities to develop close links with the business community, and has been successful in the commercialisation of research.

Regardless of what aspect of business you might be interested in, whether it features in your degree subject of choice or is an important part of your future plans, the close ties between this university and the business sector, from its promotion of its undergraduates through competitions and partnerships to its wide range of research and development workshops, are likely to be extremely beneficial.

9. Top UK University for sport: Loughborough

Loughborough University has long been recognised, both nationally and internationally, both for its high level teaching and research in the sport and exercise sciences and as a focus for the development of sporting excellence and sport participation.

Whether you are interested in the academic or practical side of sport, this is the top recommended university in the UK, with the very best facilities, research and elite coaching available to both staff and students.

10. Top UK University for student social experience: University of Manchester

The self-proclaimed “most popular British university”, Manchester is the largest single-site university in the UK. Its size, combined with the fact that it is situated in a city that is also home to several other universities, make Manchester the UK capital for student social activity and nightlife.

Manchester students report that the proliferation of young people and students makes for “a brilliant social mix and an enormous variety of social and leisure activities on offer, as there are so many students to cater for.”

Of course these listings of the best UK universities for different specific criteria are based on a combination of research and personal opinion, and many students are bound to have different ideas and experiences. Would you like to champion the cause of a university you feel has been unfairly missed off our list? Is there another important category you feel we have overlooked? Please do get involved and let us know your thoughts using the comments box below. You could even let us know your top 10 UK Universities!