This year's set of regional league tables reveals a host of surprises, with some universities celebrating unlikely victories over their local rivals and others left ruing their fall down the rankings.
The most notable changing of the guard occurred in Scotland. Although St Andrews remains the country's best university – still comfortably inside the top 10 in the UK – the University of Glasgow has shot up the national rankings from 30th to 16th, pipping Edinburgh to second place in Scotland. The picturesque capital has always attracted students from across the UK, and has traditionally been regarded among Scots as the best place to study outside St Andrews – but Glasgow can now lay claim to this title.
Its success can be attributed to higher levels of student satisfaction and more investment in student and staff facilities over the past few years, which has included improved teaching space for postgraduates and new medical centres for research into leukaemia and cognitive neuroscience.
Edinburgh will also be anxiously looking over its shoulder at the University of Strathclyde, which rose 10 places up the national league table thanks to increased spending on academic services – the main library is being digitalised – and the positive destinations of its graduates.
Things aren't looking quite so rosy for Glasgow Caledonian University, which fell in as many as five of the nine measures. While this slide was probably exaggerated by the institution's lack of spending on student and staff facilities over the past few years, Caledonian's bigwigs may want to look at its performance in some of the other indicators, too.
In the East Midlands, the University of Leicester will be celebrating victory over local rivals Loughborough, after rising eight places to 12th in the national table. Both institutions enjoy excellent levels of student satisfaction, but Leicester's sparkling new library – which is very popular with students and has some of the best student loos in the country – seems to have made all the difference, boosting its academic services spending to £911 per student. The high number of Leicester students gaining a good honours degree also did the institution's cause no harm.
Lancaster University is still the best place to study in the North-west, and fared well this year, rising nine places to break into the top 10 nationally. Its nearest rival, Manchester, lies a full 17 places behind. Elsewhere in the region, Central Lancashire has overtaken Salford: a rare example of a "new university" (one established since 1992) rising above an older institution.
In London, the impressive performance of the School of African and Oriental Studies – more often known as SOAS – will not go unnoticed: a leap of 15 places means that it is now among the top 10 universities nationwide, thanks mainly to its superb teaching ratio of just 10 students for every member of staff, coupled with a lot of investment in academic services.
But London's higher education establishments still suffer from poor levels of student satisfaction. Although the London School of Economics fares best, with a score of 3.82 out of five, students seem generally happier studying in smaller towns such as St Andrews, Oxford or Exeter: the capital's high rents and lack of community spirit are common excuses.
Cambridge rules the roost in the East of England, but the University of Essex swapped places with the University of East Anglia (UEA), which fell from 20th last year to 33rd in today's table. Essex students were very satisfied with their experience of the university, while UEA was let down by a higher than average teaching ratio of 18 students for every member of staff.
In the South-east, Oxford remains streets ahead of the University of Southampton, but the University of Reading fell by nine places. Again, a lack of investment in academic services and student facilities looks to be the cause, but the revelation that only 63 per cent of recent Reading graduates had entered higher-level employment or further study didn't help.
Another turnaround occurred in the South-west, where the University of Bath knocked Bristol off top spot. Although both institutions slipped down the national rankings this year, Bristol came off worse due to a lack of investment in new facilities. Lampeter in Wales suffered a similar fate, plummeting to 101st in the main league table after scrimping on spending and having the worst teaching ratio in the country, at 26.3 students for every staff member.
A tense rivalry appears to be developing in the West Midlands, with Aston University losing ground to the University of Birmingham. Although Aston is still second in the region after Warwick, its rival across the city now has higher entry standards and a better student-staff ratio: unless something dramatic happens in the next 12 months, a reversal looks inevitable.
There were few surprises in the North-east and Yorkshire, with Durham and York still the most popular places to study as well as the most academically rigorous. The same goes for Northern Ireland, where Queen's, Belfast remains comfortably ahead of its only rival, Ulster.Reuse content