League tables yet again come to the fore this week as Imperial College London saw a drop from 10th to 13th place in the Guardian University Guide 2013. These latest results however caused considerably more controversy than previous league table announcements.
The Guardian’s use of a ‘Value Added’ category, and Imperial’s low placing, compared to its traditional contemporaries in league tables, has ignited the opinions of many across the Imperial community. The category is scored after comparison between a university’s entry requirements and the final degree result received upon graduation.
The Union’s Deputy President (Education) Jason Parmar has openly criticised the methods used by not only the Guardian, but by league tables published by other league table-featuring publications. Certainly, it is mystifying that the value of an Imperial degree is deemed, by the Guardian, to be significantly less than many of us would prefer to believe, especially with Imperial’s top ranking for career prospects compared with other universities. However, the aim of the ‘value-added’ score – to assess the effectiveness of teaching at a university – opens a whole new avenue of questions.
Is the result representative of the teaching at Imperial, or rather the comparative rarity of first class, and indeed 2:1 grade degrees, delivered to students in comparison with other UK universities? Doubtless there are those who would argue on both accounts.
It is not hard to understand why this latest news has been met with such a negative reception. Prospective students invariably make use of such tables and with a large number of students having to pay in the region of £30,000 (if not supported by financial aid) towards their degrees from next year, making the right choice of university is critically important. The lesser ‘value’ that the league table assigns to an Imperial degree has been an affront to some who applied here on the basis of a world class education.
Gaining a first from Imperial is no easy feat, but the difficulty of attaining a high grade appears to have brought with it the risk of plain and simple statistics painting Imperial in a less than favorable light.
This whole situation simply goes to show that there is a long way for league tables to come before full weight is placed behind them. The reasoning behind the ‘Value Added’ score may have raised many tensions, and it does deserve to be questioned.