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Understanding university and course rankings

How to interpret university and course rankings to help you choose a course.

Types of league tables

League tables are useful but you shouldn’t consider them as the only way to find out about a university. They are created independently by third party organisations or by newspapers so it is important to use them together with your own research and other sources of information to make an informed decision about where you want to study.

When researching university rankings and courses, it’s helpful to understand what different league tables mean.

The main league tables that provide overall rankings for UK universities are:

As well as an overall ranking, league tables provide rankings for individual subjects. This helps you to see which universities perform the best for the subject(s) you wish to study. Sometimes the best course for you may not be at a university with the highest overall ranking.

League tables score on specific criteria including:

  • course satisfaction
  • satisfaction with teaching
  • student to staff ratio
  • graduate prospects
  • entry grades

Which? University has some useful information to help you with your league table research.

What to look for in league tables

Overall ranking versus course ranking

It’s often more valuable to consider subject specific league tables. Even if a university’s overall standing is lower in league tables it may have courses that excel in a particular area and are highly valued by employers and professional bodies.

Long term performance

You should consider how consistent a university’s ranking is over time. It’s encouraging if a university or course is consistently well ranked or has been improving its ranking in recent years.

Research quality

It’s important to distinguish between the quality of teaching and of research. An undergraduate student’s experience will be influenced by the department’s research, and you should be aware of this when looking at league table results.

Graduate prospects

HESA graduate prospect rankings show the percentage of students who go on to graduate-level employment after study. This can be different for different subjects so it’s important you look at course-specific data. You can find out what Bath students go on to do after finishing their studies from our Careers Service.

Student experience

It is helpful to consider your priorities when choosing a university. Rankings are not only based on academic achievement but student lifestyle and experience.