Rankings: OxBridge no longer UK #1 - as measured by The Guardian

Not just a U.S. phenomenon:

University of Cambridge and University of Oxford have lost out to Scottish St. Andrews University, despite OxBridge ranking higher in most categories, including: Continuation, Career, Spend per Student and Student-to-Staff ratio. However, St. Andrews won out in the “Value-Added” category, because they had a higher ratio of degrees earned by students with lesser entry qualifications.

Also, crucially, OxBridge received "n/a"s in the THREE “National Student Survey” categories, presumedly because their student unions have been boycotting survey participation.

Seems counter intuitive. They take students with lesser qualifications but they rank higher as a result. Like many things, I’d look carefully at what is being measured. St. Andrews is a great school, Oxbridge it isn’t.

I think it means a sort of social mobility index, ie., students admitted through the Access Scheme where they’re allowed AAA instead of A*AA. There are socio-economic criteria to qualify for the scheme. The idea is that, not only should the “elite” universities try to avoid “social reproduction” and should diversify socio-economically… they should also make sure the students they admit from state schools or impoverished areas aren’t just left to fend for themselves once they get to their college or set foot on campus, but have the proper support.
That being said, I sure wouldn’t have pegged St Andrews for one that tries harder than Oxbridge on that front.


Yes, the question is whether one university was “more effective” in lifting people with lesser entry qualifications - or whether it is an “automatic” outcome of (a function of) the proportion of the qualification of applicants.


Per Cherwell, an Oxford student newspaper: “Due to Oxford Student Union’s successful boycott of the Department of Education’s National Student Survey, which assesses aspects of student satisfaction, some categories had no applicable data. To determine Oxford’s overall ranking, the creators of the Good University Guide took their 2016 scores for teaching quality and student experience and adjusted them by the overall percentage point change between 2016 and 2022 observed in the other universities in this league table. The University of Cambridge also boycotted the NSS and was measured by the Good University Guide in the same way. It placed third overall.” Oxford tops Times' university rankings for first time in twelve years - Cherwell. This statement was made in reference to the Times/Sunday Times League Table, in which Oxford was ranked 1st this year. I wonder if the Guardian does something similar with respect to the NSS.

Haha - now THAT is truly inventive. Take 6-year old base figure of ONE university, apply factors from OTHER universities…
To make that truly scientific, they should have divided that by the area’s telephone prefix and multiplied by the postal code.

It’s the same kind of pseudo-accuracy that people get when they divide two low-precision numbers to the n-th decimal.


Oxford SU rationale for the boycott seems a bit weak to me:

Why should I boycott the NSS?

In the past, Oxford SU has joined other universities in boycotting the NSS due to its ties to the Teaching Excellence Framework, which would have allowed the top performing universities to raise their undergrad tuition fees above the current £9250 limit. While home fees are currently capped and TEF is under review, the future of the NSS and how it will link to TEF is unclear, although there are no current plans to increase fees in the foreseeable future.

Furthermore, the data gathered from the NSS is used to rank universities against each other, which can create a competitive market of education. This is damaging to the quality of education because it may encourage universities to stream money into quick fixes simply to drive up student satisfaction on paper. This is made worse by the fact that many of the core questions on the NSS reflect a narrow view of what higher education and student experience should look like, rather than the more holistic and structural understanding Oxford SU advocates for, which includes an emphasis on equality and welfare as well as academics.

Well, here in the U.S., they’ve taken competition to the extreme. The result is that universities are continuously outspend each other, increasing tuition for students, many of whom then go into life-long debt to afford the seemingly “best” education.

While that system works for those with means (and also cements their societal status), and those who can throw a football the farthest, I’m skeptical that the overall outcome in the U.S. is superior for the majority of students, vs. countries where higher education relies more on some idealist concept of having to be equally available to anyone, as long as they fulfill the entry requirements.

FWIW, I would be surprised if those factors, as computed, would have had an outsize effect on the position of Oxbridge on the tables. Both Oxford and Cambridge did well in the NSS surveys in 2016. Times Higher Education reported that both had a 90% overall satisfaction with their courses in the NSS in 2016, and of the Guardian’s current top 10, only one scored higher (94) and only one scored the same (90) in 2016. The methodology seems to have basically baked in for Oxbridge very good, though not the very highest, NSS numbers.

Flashing back to my early engineering courses.


Given that those NSS numbers were then used for three distinct criteria, any otherwise “small” difference between “very good” and “highest” might have become amplified.

Whenever I see these kind of hitparades, I wish they’d also publish an “apples-for-apples” version that uses only whatever common criteria that is actually available for all.

If I understand the NSS boycott correctly, it’s not the institution boycotting the surveys, but the student union – so it seems improper to (potentially) penalize the institution for something quite out of their control.

It’s a bit different from a similarly popular ranking in the U.S., that relies heavily on data submitted by each university. If some universities opts out from returning the survey, then at least it’s their own doing.

At the end of the day, I think Oxbridge is essentially immune to any rankings against other UK universities. For a variety of reasons (e.g., historical significance; the breadth, depth, and strength of both their undergraduate and graduate offerings; their academic selectivity; and their global footprint), it’s hard to imagine the public viewing them as anything other than the first and second best universities in the UK. That’s certainly how I view them, and I can’t imagine Oxford or Cambridge are losing sleep over these or any other domestic league tables.


Agree. Even Imperial hasn’t succeeded in dislodging Oxbridge in the sciences (in the minds of applicants and their parents), even though I find Imperial to be extremely strong and more innovative in some respects (e.g., interdisciplinary focus).

That said, I think these rankings can help other universities seeking to broaden awareness and increase their appeal (e.g., Loughborough, Warwick, Bath).


I see value in the rankings as well. I like that the UK league tables are sortable by factors such as entry tariff, career outlook, and student satisfaction, and I like how there are separate tables for a variety of subjects. I do not believe that higher education is one-size-fits-all, and it’s helpful (if not necessarily given the differences in the universities and their offerings) to be able to sort by whichever factors one finds most relevant.


The only question which the public might consider worth debating is which is first and which second… though some might just split the baby and say Cambridge is best for sciences, Oxford for non-science subjects. Definitely different to their relative fame in the US though (due to the outsize prestige of Rhodes scholarships).