Yet More League Tables?

As if analysing and reporting on the main UK league tables (Complete University Guide, Guardian Guide and Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide) wasn’t enough, then there are plenty of other to keep policy wonks busy in the winter months.

First out this month is the People and Planet University League. This is most notable this year for two things: firstly the methodology and level of detail have changed from last year, and secondly, the refusal of a large numbers of universities to take part.

As reported in the Guardian

A number of universities seem to have become frustrated over time with the “green league”, which has also this year been renamed to remove the word “green” from the title. Concerns centred on the time involved in collating the information required, some criticisms of aspects of People & Planet’s methodology, and perceived goal-post changing.

Our own position appears to have fallen this year, no doubt in part to the changes in methodology and the kinds of data requested. The diagram below shows the relative rankings of million+ universities

greenleague 2014

The second ranking that is about to come out will be launched in February. Spiked Online, a website that promotes free speech, and also supports a campaign against the “no platform” policies of Students’ Unions, is launching the Free Speech University Rankings.

Before the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, #JeSuisCharlie and the inevitable post-Hebdo backslide into the illiberal status quo, free speech was already a flashpoint issue in UK universities. A combination of a creeping, risk-averse bureaucracy at the heart of university administrations and an openly censorious culture in students’ unions devastated freedom on campus. It undermined the traditional role of the academy as a space in which students and academics could think the unthinkable and say the unsayable…….In February, spiked is launching the Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR), the UK’s first ranking of universities according to their commitment to freedom of speech. Researched and developed in partnership with students across Britain, it’s a nationwide study that will provide students and academics with the weight of evidence they so badly need to take their censorious institutions to task

In light of the discussions taking pace across universities on the approach we should take to free speech on campus, then this looks like an interesting addition to the debate. At a time when individual staff feel that certain topics may be considered “unsafe” to discuss, and when the proposed new powers in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill put a duty on specified public authorities, including universities, to “have due regard, in the exercise of its functions, to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”, then a robust understanding of freedom of speech and expression becomes central to the role of a university.

UCAS 2014 Data Release

UCAS have now released their analysis of the 2014 entry and acceptance cycle. A detailed report is available at the UCAS website.

The key points that come out are:

  • For the first time over half a million people placed in higher education through UCAS
  • More acceptances from both within and outside the UK
  • Acceptance increase for all age groups, 25 and over by 9 per cent to a new high of 52,300
  • Largest increases in 2014 are for English acceptances and to English providers
  • 18 year olds living in England and Wales more likely than ever to enter Higher Education
  • 18 year olds more likely than ever to enter higher education holding BTEC qualifications
  • Over 40 per cent of young people in England enter higher education by age 19
  • Entry rates increase for all ethnic groups in 2014 but large differences remain between groups
  • Young women a third more likely to enter higher education than young men
  • Entry rates for disadvantaged jump by over 10 per cent to highest ever levels across the UK
  • Differences in entry rates between advantaged and disadvantaged fall to a new low
  • Recruitment to 2014-15 increases to all provider types, higher tariff providers at record levels

Although the picture overall seems one of good news, within the overall statistics are some significant variances.

When looking at the “winners and losers” in terms of acceptances, then there is quite an amount of movement in the market. Providers other than universities have seen some hinge rises in acceptances and equally other non-university providers have seen huge falls. Within the more traditional university sector there are also gains and losses – the chart below shows the percentage change in acceptances from 2013-14 to 2014-15. It is difficult to discern a clear trend here, but factors that have already had an effect was the impact of unlimited recruitment to ABB+ applicants – some high tariff universities have chosen to grow their undergraduate numbers. The forthcoming year will be more interesting again – removal of any student number controls will mean a variety of different behaviours. Some universities may choose to grow no further, and to maintain their position of enrolling high tariff students who will benefit them in league tables. Further down the pecking order though, competition may become tougher as middle ranking universities seek to grow through student numbers.

ucas2014 2


In addition, UCAS have published two analysis notes.

The first of these indicates the rise in applicants and students accepted onto places who hold Btec qualifications.The second shows the gender difference between subject disciplines.

Firstly on entry qualification – if on a given course or module, there is an increased number, or indeed majority, of students holding Btec qualifications, are we ensuring that our learning and teaching strategies, and in particular types of assessment, are designed to ensure that these students can succeed. The educational experiences of a Btec entrant will be different from those of an A-level entrant, and so the question must be asked – have our courses been designed with their experiences in mind? In addition, is the institution able to provide detail (ideally at module level) to teaching staff in advance of beginning of teaching, on the typical previous educational experience and success of new entrants There is a possible role in the future for using data analytics for predictive purposes, but in the first instance, some simple information about the cohort would suffice.

Secondly, on gender difference, it appears that there is still a polarisation between certain subjects and despite the need for more engineers in the county, and all the work though Athena Swan and other initiatives, that certain disciplines are still male dominated. Equally Education appears to be female dominated, which again has long terms implications for the diversity of teaching in our schools.

UCAS 2014 1