The Guardian university league tables for 2020 were published on 7th June. The tables rank UK universities both overall and for individual subjects.
Imperial maintained its overall position from last year in 7th, an impressive feat given that many London universities have declined. LSE, King’s College, City University, and Royal Holloway all dropped several places. UCL saw the worst drop-off amongst the London universities, falling eleven places from 11th place to 22nd.
The rankings are based on several criteria: satisfaction with course, with feedback, and with teaching – the scores for which are taken from the National Student Survey responses – as well as spend per student, graduate employment rates, a ‘value added score’ which compares students’ degree results with entry qualifications as a measure of teaching effectiveness, and the ‘continuation rate’ of first year students who stay on for second year.
As in previous years, Imperial was rated highly for most criteria, but was let down by poor student satisfaction – in particular, Imperial rates eighth worst in the country for satisfaction with feedback. Imperial also has a relatively low ‘value added score’. In contrast, it has the 6th lowest student-to-staff ratio, the 4th highest spend per student, the highest employment rate after six months of any UK university, and tied 9th for continuation rate.
The subject rankings are mixed. Engineering subjects at Imperial continued to excel, with Civil and Mechanical/Aeronautical Engineering taking the top spot in the UK for another year running, and Chemical Engineering climbing from 4th to 2nd. EEE/EIE and Materials both dropped just one place, from 4th to 5th and 6th to 7th, respectively.
Joining the engineers in their dominance are the Computing and Earth Sciences courses, placed 4th and 1st, respectively. Mathematics showed the greatest improvement, rising from 21st to 8th place. Medicine and Biosciences each also rose several places, from 11th to 9th and 13th to 8th.
The Faculty of Natural Sciences, however, continues to struggle. Physics came in at 38th, falling for the third year in a row, while Chemistry placed in 42nd. Both have seen catastrophic declines over the past several years; just three years ago, Chemistry placed 19th and Physics placed 8th.
St. Andrews students will be happy, given that they have finally overtaken Oxford for 2nd place. The order of the top three universities has been Cambridge, Oxford, then St. Andrews in 3rd since the 2015 tables. This sort of “reordering” is common outside of the top three – the top ten universities from the 2019 rankings are all in the top eleven in the 2020 rankings, the newcomer being Exeter, who rose four places from 14th to 10th.
The falloff of London, one of the UK’s education hubs, accompanies an overall decline in UK universities as ranked in international tables. The QS world rankings for 2020, released earlier this week, saw two thirds of the UK’s ranked universities falling in the wake of financial constraints due to the economic uncertainty caused by Brexit.