The Complete University Guide

Performance measures: Hert, soul and cash to splash

The University of Hertfordshire has excelled for its spending on student facilities

The tables on how each university performed on the nine measures show Cambridge at the top of three tables, and Oxford and Imperial College London leading two. No particular surprises there then.

You would expect Cambridge to do well on research assessment, student satisfaction and entry standards. And you are probably not surprised that Oxford came top for good honours degrees and course completion, and Imperial College London for graduate prospects and spending on academic services.

The fact that University College London has the best staff student ratio, followed by Imperial College and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) confirms again the dominance of the golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London.

The big surprise is Hertfordshire's position at the top of the table for spending on facilities such as careers services, proving that "new" universities can outperform "old" ones. In Hertfordshire's case, the money was spent on sports services and a computer network.

Buckinghamshire New University, the former Buckinghamshire Chilterns University, which is in the table for the first time, also did well on facilities spending, coming in at number four.

All 113 universities are assessed on a range of nine measures in The Complete University Guide but some measures are given more weight than others. Two of the measures – student satisfaction and research assessment – are given a higher weighting than the others to reflect the importance that these have in the life of a university. So, a university that does badly in one of these two will find their position more adversely affected than if they did badly on one of the other seven.

But the indicator that really upset the apple cart was student satisfaction. Bottom of the student satisfaction table is the prestigious University of the Arts, London, which contains all the capital's foremost art colleges such as Chelsea, Central St Martin's and the London College of Fashion. It may be that art students are more awkward than others, given to complaining about their lot, but its position does not inspire confidence and may possibly act as a deterrent to overseas students.

Some highly-rated "old" universities also came low down in the student satisfaction league table, including Manchester (10th from bottom), Edinburgh, Sussex and Nottingham. Expect a concerted effort by these institutions next time round to find out what their students were complaining about and to put that right.

Bernard Kingston, who is responsible for compiling the table, says that some universities are really taking the league tables very seriously now. "They have set up little groups to see how they can improve their performance," he says.

One university in this category is Leicester. Aware of the importance of league tables, university vice chancellor Professor Robert Burgess pulled out all the stops to ensure that his institution did as well as it possibly could. The result has been positive. Leicester has shot up eight places, and students seem to appreciate the effort made. On student satisfaction, Leicester comes third, after St Andrews, which is in second place.

Another university to make a conscious effort to burnish its reputation is Exeter. Under its vice chancellor Professor Steve Smith, the university invested in new academic staff and new student facilities. The result is that it comes fifth for student satisfaction, and is now placed 17th in the main table.

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