It’s that time of year again – the hotly anticipated Guardian University Guide has been published, with the results more important than ever in a year where tuition fees will soar to £9000. With students determined to get the best value for money, universities have never been in such fierce competition, particularly now that radical government higher education cuts have left them practically solely dependent on tuition fees. So the stakes have never been higher for universities to perform well in this prestigious league table…
Cambridge has managed to cling on to the top spot after knocking Oxford from its perch last year, though Oxford is not far behind in second place. The London School of Economics, which has excelled in recent years, is hot on their heels, with St Andrews and surprise contender Warwick making up the rest of the top five.
Whilst many strong and prestigious universities like Bath, Durham, Imperial College and Edinburgh performed highly as usual, all finishing within the top fifteen, there were also some surprises. Surrey made an impressive leap up the rankings from last year to finish twelfth, whilst Glasgow made similar strides to come fourteenth. But previously hot contenders foundered, with Imperial College, which usually appears in the top ten lists, slipping to thirteenth place and York and Leicester also performing less successfully than usual.
There were also some new names in the ring, with little-known Heriot-Watt University making twentieth place, ahead of traditionally respected institutions like Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham.
Most shocking of all, however, was the loosening grip of London universities and colleges on the top few spots in the table. Whilst previous years have seen London dominate the higher echelons of the rankings, this year saw the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) plunge from thirteenth to twenty-ninth place, while King’s College slipped even further to thirty-first. Queen Mary, University of London, which has been performing particularly highly in recent league tables also disappointed, with an underwhelming finish in thirty-sixth place.
Scottish universities, which might have been expected to creep ahead as they escaped the tuition fees fiasco embroiling their English counterparts, also generally performed poorly, with Aberdeen limping into thirty-eighth place and Dundee finishing forty-third.
Whilst it’s possible that these upsets to the traditional order may well be linked to the disruptive influence of tuition fees, one thing is for certain: students looking to apply to university under the new financial regime will be scrutinising the tables more closely than ever.