Oxford student thwarts ban on college 'league'

THE ATTEMPT by Oxford University to prevent the publication of an annual league table of college performance - the Norrington table - has been thwarted by an enterprising languages graduate.

The university decided that the Norrington table, much pored- over by sixth formers as a crude comparison of each college's academic success, was an invidious publication that should be stifled. It therefore decided no longer to list degree results with the candidates' colleges alongside.

The university authorities assumed that their move would render compilation of the table impossible. However, Brian Jenner, a 1991 graduate in French and German from Brasenose College, has traced all 3,014 finals candidates who were awarded a degree this year by linking their names to the university's matriculation lists.

The result is a reliable reproduction of the table, calculated in exactly the same way as Norrington. The table was named after Sir Arthur Norrington, a former president of Trinity College, who proposed the idea in 1963.

Merton comes top for the seventh time, with St John's second (it had topped the league in six previous years). Corpus Christi rejoins the three leaders, having slipped last year to eighth place.

Those Oxford dons who have opposed the publication of the table will be infuriated to see it re- appear. But the denizens of Lady Margaret Hall's senior common room will probably be delighted to see their college rise from 20th last year to fifth place - alongside Balliol - this year.

Wadham suffers the sharpest slide, down from third place to 17th, with Keble dropping from seventh to 18th. As before, all- women's colleges find themselves at the bottom of the table.

The proportion of first class degrees awarded has risen from 16.3 per cent to 18 per cent, and the proportion of thirds is down from 4.7 per cent to 3.7 per cent. The largest group of students attained upper seconds: 44.9 per cent.

The main criticism is that the table measures only undergraduate performance at finals, without reference to the quality of graduate and research work, or broader educational achievements.

Some dons, however, have argued that the university's attempt to prevent the table's compilation is a form of anti-competitive censorship. David Coleman, of the applied social studies department, argued in the Oxford Magazine last year: 'Why should colleges or other educational institutions be shielded from comparison? They claim to be offering educational services with at least the implication of worthwhile result. They charge fees to their students. They depend, directly or indirectly, upon large sums of public money. Why, then, should those who have to choose between colleges be deprived of the factual basis for any kind of performance indicator other than the old boy network?'

It seems unlikely that the university will change its mind, in spite of the apparent paradox that one of Britain's top higher education institutions is attempting to abandon its performance league in the same year that exam tables of schools are being published for the first time.

Oxford's ruling council has been considering the publication of more extensive information in some other form. But, as Mr Jenner has demonstrated, it can only prevent the compilation of an 'unofficial' table by refusing to publish degree lists altogether.

The table is calculated by awarding five points for a first class degree, three for an upper second, two for a lower second, and one for a third. The points are then added together, and expressed as a percentage of the maximum possible score.

----------------------------------------------------------------- THE NORRINGTON TABLE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Position* College Pts 1 2:1 2:2 3 Max % ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1 (6) Merton 273 27 39 10 1 385 70.9 2 (1) St John's 389 38 58 11 3 550 70.7 3 (8) Corpus Christi 180 12 35 7 1 275 65.5 4 (11) Jesus 284 20 51 14 3 440 64.6 5 (2) Balliol 379 30 59 23 6 590 64.2 5 (20) Lady Marg. Hall 363 25 65 20 3 565 64.2 7 (19) Trinity 265 22 40 14 7 415 63.9 7 (5) University 348 23 64 19 3 545 63.9 9 (4) Magdalen 366 26 63 21 5 575 63.7 10 (12) Exeter 280 20 45 21 3 445 62.9 11 (22) Pembroke 307 19 58 17 4 490 62.7 12 (18) New College 389 23 73 26 3 625 62.2 13 (10) Hertford 326 20 59 23 3 525 62.1 14 (9) Queens 313 21 52 24 4 505 62.0 15 (13) Lincoln 223 11 47 13 1 360 61.9 16 (17) Christ Church 378 24 65 29 5 615 61.5 17 (3) Wadham 371 21 66 34 0 605 61.3 18 (7) Keble 336 14 75 20 1 550 61.1 19 (14) Oriel 257 12 53 17 4 430 59.8 20 (15) Brasenose 326 17 58 32 3 550 59.3 21 (16) St Catherine's 388 17 77 33 6 665 58.3 22 (28) St Hugh's 311 14 62 24 7 535 58.1 23 (21) Worcester 307 11 67 23 5 530 57.9 24 (25) Somerville 332 12 71 27 5 575 57.7 25 (26) St Peter's 245 11 45 26 3 425 57.6 26 (24) St Edmund Hall 355 14 71 33 6 620 57.2 27 (27) St Anne's 377 17 64 47 6 675 55.9 28 (23) St Hilda's 300 8 67 26 7 540 55.6 ----------------------------------------------------------------- * Last year's figures in brackets -----------------------------------------------------------------

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