THE World University Rankings 2011

06 October 2011

Commenting on the THE World University Rankings 2011 published today, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of The Russell Group of universities said: 

“League tables have real limitations but on most indicators the UK ranks second only to the USA in the number of world-class universities. Our leading universities offer a bigger bang for the buck than most of our competitors and punch well above their weight when you look at performance relative to expenditure.

“But we certainly can’t rest on our laurels. Our global competitors are pumping billions into higher education and snapping at our heels. 

“Money really matters. While developed countries on average invest one per cent of GDP on higher education, the UK invests just 0.6% of public funding in HE, one of the lowest levels in the OECD.  Even when fees and private research funding is included, we are outpaced by the US, Australia, Canada, Korea and Japan. Just last week, France boosted its higher education budget for 2012 by 2.5% at the same time as slashing spending in other areas; the UK cannot afford to be outmanoeuvred by our global competitors who clearly recognize that investment in research and higher education is key to growth. 

"If we are to remain a global leader in higher education – and continue to reap the economic and social benefits that follow – the UK Government must concentrate investment where it will have the most impact: in our world-class research-intensive universities. “Ranking universities is fraught with difficulties and we have many concerns about their accuracy. So it is vital that students also look beyond any tables to pick the right course for them, and seek the university with the best teaching, research facilities and learning environment to support their studies. Now more than ever students want to be sure their degree will enhance their earning potential.[3] Getting the right mix of these ingredients - which Russell Group universities all provide - is as important as any league table ranking."

Notes to editors 

  1. It is very difficult to capture fully in numerical terms the performance of universities and their contribution to knowledge, to the world economy and to society. A European University Association report (Global University Rankings and their Impact, 2011) and a European Commission report (Assessing Europe’s University-based research,2010) express serious doubts about the feasibility of comparing universities, and an earlier report by HEFCE* found that constraints on available data mean that league tables tend to simply ‘count what can be measured rather than measuring what counts’. Making meaningful comparisons of universities both within, and across, national borders is a tough and complex challenge, not least because of issues relating to the robustness and comparability of data. The fact that an individual institution can fare quite differently in the various league tables illustrates these problems very clearly. 
    * HEFCE, Counting what is measured or measuring what counts? 2008
  2. For example, as an assessment of research the quality profiles generated by the UK’s Research Assessment Exercise is a more accurate indication of an institution’s research strength than any single ranking. Also, according to the National Student Survey Russell Group universities also have high levels of student satisfaction (average satisfaction rate across Russell Group universities is 87% compared with an average of 83% across the sector). 
  3. Research conducted in 2003 showed that there was approximately a 10% wage premium realised by graduates from Russell Group universities compared with graduates from modern universities. (Chevalier, A. Does it pay to go to a prestigious university? Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE, March 2003). A second study found that graduates from institutions falling within the highest quartile of RAE scores could expect a wage premium of 10-16%. (McNally, S., etc al, University Quality and Graduate Wages in the UK, March 2009. HESA data shows that RG graduates secure on average a wage premium of £3,000 over graduates from other institutions 6 months after graduation (HESA, Destination of Leavers Survey, 2007/08, full-time first degree leavers entering full-time paid employment).


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