Comment Writers Emily Chapman and Lily Haugh debate the pros and cons of University League Tables

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The Cons – by Emily Chapman

University league tables are a simplified view of something which, at its core, is an incredibly complex and life-defining process. Having recently come out the other side of this system, I can verifiably say that these league tables merely play into our pre-disposed, elitist views about university and honestly, they do more harm than good.

However, this term, 'academic,' now seems to have become synonymous with only the more elite universities, implying that only Russell Groups are worth your time

Needless to say, as with anything, it depends from where your information is coming. For instance, ‘The Complete University Guide’ includes an ‘entry standards’ rating which contributes to the overall score of the university, whereas the Guardian’s league table focuses more on student satisfaction ratings. As a result, the results of each site differ significantly; as the more ‘academic’ universities climb the ranks of ‘The Complete University Guide’, we see the likes of Loughborough and Lancaster (or non-Russell Group universities) inhabiting the Guardian’s top ten: in the mix with Oxford, Cambridge and Durham.

However, it is this liberal use of ‘academic’ that is inhibiting prospective students’ abilities to choose a university that suits them. A dictionary defines the term ‘academic’ as ‘relating to education or scholarship’, therefore all university education is academic. However, this term now seems to have become synonymous with only the more elite universities, implying that only Russell Groups are worth your time.

In reality, these rankings are numbers on a screen, faceless, and can in no way represent how effectively a university will suit the learning style of an individual

This view, ingrained into our secondary schooling system, completely mars the usefulness of these university tables, as no matter what subject we are pursuing, we are constantly asked: “But where’s that on the league table?” In reality, these rankings are numbers on a screen, faceless, and can in no way represent how effectively a university will suit the learning style of an individual, how hard they work or (as is a priority for most) how good the nightlife is.

All in all, as a student at a university that is currently 16th on ‘The Complete University Guide’, I can quite confidently say the numbers next to the University of Birmingham mean nothing to me – but maybe that’s because I’m an Arts student.

The Pros – by Lily Haugh

The University League Tables, in short, were my saviour. 17 is a daunting age. The safety blanket of Secondary School is to be torn away, leaving us exposed to an imminent, yet unknown, future, University waiting ominously on the horizon.

On opening the website, I exhaled a sigh of relief and a “hallelujah”

The ultimate question: which University? Such a tough decision-process is bombarded by endless options. In Sixth Form, I attended a fair with at least 80 University Stalls, all luring us in with the prospect of sweet freebies before trapping us in a promotional onslaught. Often I walked away disillusioned, Haribos forgotten.

In the midst of uncertainty, I discovered the University League Tables, which stripped the information of its promotional properties and condensed it, miraculously, to a page. On opening the website, I exhaled a sigh of relief and a “hallelujah”.

Of course, University is a subjective experience, but too much subjectivity in the face of indecision can encroach on a prospective student’s sanity. Despite being an English student with an aversion to numbers, I craved some form of statistics. Any form of objectivity.

Every factor of University life is categorically rated using collated feedback: Entry Standards, Student Satisfaction, Research Quality and Graduate Prospects. According to these scores, the Universities are then placed in an order, best to worst. Being able to view the general, alongside the course-specific ratings, was extremely useful. Then, by selecting my favourite Universities, I could even go and compare.

Being able to view the general, alongside the course-specific ratings, was extremely useful

For me, these League Tables formed the backbone of my UCAS application. Bearing in mind my academic ability and predictions, I distinguished exactly where to aim and where to fall back on. Many dismiss the League Tables as lacking reality, but such a resource is imperative to avoid being caught in a wild storm of information.

Also, being a student, the financial benefits of using the League Tables are, of course, worth a mention. They enabled me to prioritize before devoting precious coinage to train fares for Open Days across the country.

To me, the University League Tables were an important sign on the road to independence- one I recommend slowing down to read!

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