University league tables fuel a toxic undercurrent of snobbery

We hate them yet we find ourselves trusting them. League tables are arbitrary and divisive in broader debates about higher education reform. Why, then, do we give them so much credibility? What teachers don’t talk about is the subtle undercurrent of toxic elitism that these meaningless tables fuel. This snobbery damaged me last summer as it will thousands of students and parents this August. League tables have reigned over our higher education sector for long enough. A first year student at The University of Sheffield writes in The Telegraph.

University league tables are simply arbitrary. Most focus on ‘hard’ figures about graduate prospects, entry standards and student satisfaction scores. Producing a single score means layers of data and its context is wiped out, and universities never change as rapidly as they hike up and down the rankings. Six years after graduation would be an interesting insight, but the rankings show six months – when a graduate is often still finding their feet. Entry grades show no value-added progression.

Throughout the Ucas application process, my further education college was obsessed with league tables. I was part of an ‘Academic Academy’ group based on my GCSE grades, but the focus was overwhelmingly on the four Oxbridge applicants of the cohort. I found the university that I loved based on the feel of open days, the course itself, opportunities available beyond the course, and the place. Like many peers, I achieved A*AA at A Level but actively chose not to go to Oxbridge; it wasn’t right for me.

It’s an unsurprising attitude – university league tables become a self-fulfilling prophecy for further education colleges. Push more students to apply for Oxbridge or another Russell Group university, boast about it in marketing materials after results day, and the college will improve its own league table position to attract more bright school leavers. The colleges and sixth forms that avoid this narrow mindset risk failing to attract the best 16-18 year-olds. In an education system dominated by rankings, each tier is invested in the league tables of the next stage, to secure their own position.

Equally, our mindsets must change. Too many perceive a ‘cream’ of British universities ranging from Oxbridge to Durham and the ‘best’ London universities. This is regardless of whether they are at the top of a league table, as Durham and the best London universities rarely are. Many former polytechnics and non-Russell Group universities are written off as for the underachievers. We’re a nation chasing fake ‘prestige’.

Read the full article University league tables fuel a toxic undercurrent of snobbery

Was your university choice based on league table results? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin 

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