Traditional universities still hold sway over rivals

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The Independent Online

Britain's traditional old universities still rule the roost in the Complete University Guide, published today for the first time by The Independent.

The league tables, which rank universities on a range of measures from academic performance to student satisfaction, show Oxford topping the table – with its ancient rival, Cambridge, coming second. They confirm the continued existence of a binary divide, 16 years after the distinction between the traditional universities and the former polytechnics was scrapped.

Of the 20 universities belonging to the Russell Group – which represents the major research institutions in the UK – 12 have won places in the top 20. The group's lowest ranking university is Liverpool, which is in 42nd place.

The tables are published at a time of concern over the failure of Britain's elite universities to meet government benchmarks for recruiting both state school students and young people from poor neighbourhoods.

Latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that only six members of the Russell Group meet government guidelines for recruiting state school students. In addition, 16 out of the 20 fail to recruit enough youngsters from parts of the country where participation in higher education is low.

Concern were exacerbated this month when Cambridge University recorded a drop in the percentage of state school recruits for the second successive year. The percentage had fallen from 56 per cent to 55 per cent since September 2006. More worryingly, though, the percentage of applicants from state school students had fallen by five percentage points – fuelling claims that state school teachers were failing to encourage pupils to apply to top ranking universities.

Overall in today's league tables, compiled by Bernard Kingston, former careers director at Sheffield University and founder of the website www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk, almost all the old universities achieve higher rankings than the former polytechnics. The only exceptions are Nottingham Trent and Hertfordshire, both former polytechnics, which ranked above the established University of Bangor. Hertfordshire, which is the fastest rising university in the tables – up 40 places on its 2007 ranking – also topped the league table for spending on facilities, having improved its sporting and computing facilities.

The only area where the elite universities failed – en masse – to score highly was in student satisfaction. Cambridge topped the table with a ranking of 4.15 but Imperial College and Nottingham (with a ranking of 3.66), Edinburgh (3.64) and Manchester (3.61) were well down this league. Only six universities in the entire country were ranked lower than Manchester for student satisfaction – the lowest being the University of the Arts in London. The top ranking non-Russell Group University in the table was Durham which was in sixth place followed by the School of Oriental and African studies – part of the university of London – in ninth.

* Latest figures from the University and Colleges Admissions Service show a 7.8 per cent rise in university applications this year to 481,784, compared with 446,765 in 2007.

The top 10

Oxford

Cambridge

London School of Economics

Imperial College

Warwick

Durham

St Andrews

University College London

SOAS

Lancaster

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