College and university rankings across the pond

It is with embarrassment that I admit that I recently purchased a subscription to the 2009 U.S. News Best Colleges Rankings. I know, I know. But I use it in job-hunting to get the skinny on institutions, and it’s quick and it’s easy. Kinda like a microwave meal.

It’s comforting to know that the British don’t mind sinking as low, or almost as low: The Guardian publishes rankings of UK institutions, too. So, yeah, Oxford and Cambridge are numbers 1 and 2 for English, big surprise, and next the University of London, but who knew that the University of Warwick was so hot at number 4? Not this corn-fed American girl. It must be due to their proximity to Stratford-upon-Avon.

Note too that 1) the Guardian’s rankings are free, and 2) the methodology is substantially different from that of US News. Let’s compare the criteria that each uses:

US News


  • Peer assessment (weighting: 25 percent) — What presidents, provosts, and deans of admission say about other schools.
  • Retention (20 percent in national universities and liberal arts colleges and 25 percent in master’s and baccalaureate colleges) — How many students stick around.
  • Faculty resources (20 percent) — Class size, faculty salaries, number of profs with PhDs, student-faculty ratio, proportion of full-time faculty.
  • Student selectivity (15 percent) — SATs, proportion of students from top 10-25% of their high school class, acceptance rate.
  • Financial resources (10 percent) — Per-student spending on education only (not sports, rec centers, etc.)
  • Graduation rate performance (5 percent; only in national universities and liberal arts colleges) — Whether the graduation rate is improving.
  • Alumni giving rate (5 percent) — Percentage of alumni who donate.

The Guardian


  • Teaching quality – as rated by final year students on the course (10%)
  • Feedback (assessment) – as rated by final year students on the course (5%)
  • Spending per student (17%)
  • Staff/student ratio (17%)
  • Job prospects (17%) — “the proportion of graduates who find graduate-level employment, or study full-time, within six months of graduation”
  • Value added – comparing students’ degree results with their entry qualifications (17%)
  • Entry score (17%) — That is, the entry “Ucas tariff” score of students. Akin to SAT scores.

The Guardian’s methodology is obviously much more student-centered, which I think is a very good thing. They actually ask students what THEY thought about the university. The idea that alumni giving represents an indirect assessment of student satisfaction is all very well, but why not try to gather a direct one? Also, how about that “job prospects” bit? I guess it’s no longer the U.S. which is crassly vocational and the U.K. which is hoity-toity liberal-arty.

Also, notice that both sets of rankings emphasize teaching as a measure of excellence, which does not match the incentive programs for faculty at most R1 universities. Apparently research doesn’t come into it at all. Hmm.