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League table background and inclusion criteria

Information about UK university league tables and how universities appear in our rankings.


  1. University league tables

  2. Complete University Guide's league table inclusion criteria

  3. Overseas league tables

University league tables

University rankings have their origins in the USA but were first introduced into the UK in 1993. Many were incorporated into newspaper supplements or within paperback guides, and although some are still paper-based, all tables now have a web presence.

Complete University Guide

The Complete University Guide is published wholly online and free to access. Fully independent and autonomous, the content is widely respected for its responsiveness to the university community and its commitment to giving university applicants the most comprehensive, accurate and relevant information on university courses that best fit their needs.


To appear in our overall ranking table or the 74 subject tables, an HE institution must:

  • Offer full-time, first degree (undergraduate) courses
  • Be a recognised body (award its own degrees)
  • Put in a full statistical return to HESA
  • For the main table (but not necessarily the subject tables), be a multi-subject institution (defined as appearing in at least three CUG subject tables in the preceding year’s tables)
  • For the main table (but not necessarily the subject tables) be permitted to use the title ‘university’
  • For the subject tables, have at least two measures available (one of which must be Student Satisfaction and the other either Entry Standards or Graduate Prospects) and offer undergraduate courses in the relevant subject

Currently, the main table is based on ten measures and the subject tables on six of these. A higher weighting has been given to student satisfaction and a lower weighting to research intensity and the two spend measures in the main table. Where possible, allowance has been made for the differing subject mix within institutions.

The interactive nature of the university league tables is unique and enables users to isolate single measures and determine their effect on the overall ranking of the institution.

In addition, the tables can be viewed by UK country/region and by the mission groups set up by the universities themselves (e.g. Russell Group, MillionPlus), allowing comparison with institutions having similar missions or goals.

Arts, Drama and Music institutions

Our Arts, Drama & Music table includes a number of specialist colleges that don't meet the full criteria for inclusion in the main table. Some of these institutions will also be found listed in their relevant subject tables (e.g. Drama, Dance & Cinematics; Education; History of Art, Architecture & Design; Art & Design; and Music).

Of course, other institutions also offer courses in arts, drama and music. You can find them in the relevant subject tables and on the main table.

This table enables us to include virtually all institutions in the UK with taught degree-awarding powers in this table or the main table. The methodology used is exactly the same as for the main table.

We gratefully acknowledge the interest and expertise of our advisory board members who belong to those organisations which might be regarded as the principal stakeholders in league tables. The majority come from within the HE sector but all are appointed in a personal capacity. Vacancies arise from time to time.

Calendar for compilation of the league tables

The calendar is broadly the same year on year:

  • Autumn – agree the measures and define the specification
  • Winter –  consult the HE institutions to ensure the tables are accurate
  • Spring – compile and publish the tables
  • Summer – receive and evaluate feedback
  • Ad hoc consultations can occur throughout the year.

Who uses the league tables?

Primarily, we've developed the league tables with potential applicants and their mentors in mind, but there's widespread and detailed evidence that they're also extensively used by:

  • University administrators
  • Heads of departments and admissions tutors
  • UK and foreign governments and politicians
  • Recruiters of graduates
  • Academics planning to move
  • Scholarship awarding bodies
  • Researchers

Overseas league tables

If you're interested in other countries and their league tables see:

If you're looking for global comparisons, consult:

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