Making sense of international league and rankings tables

International league tables are fast becoming just as essential a tool for university applicants as national league tables such as the Complete University Guide.

In 2015, a survey by the British Council found that a third of the students polled (some 3,000 students aged 16–30) said they were interested in some form of overseas study.

So it makes sense for these students to look at the international rankings – which they are likely to frequently encounter in the promotional material from institutions on their wish list – alongside other information about the country and university being considered.

But how accurate a picture do they give would-be students and others of the health of a country’s higher education system, and of the institutions that it contains?

Universities that perform well in national rankings frequently barely register in the global league tables.

There are major international rankings that applicants are likely to come across, all published annually, and all freely available to the user.

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