How to Use the League Tables

League tables play a big part when choosing a university. Our rankings are based on a carefully formatted methodology using several criteria or 'measures'. To help you understand these measures better, we've explained each one and described why it's important.

We believe these tables give a pretty good indication of how universities compare with each other. The measures help you focus on areas that may be important to you, such as entry standards or graduate prospects.

Be aware however, that the league tables do not tell the whole story. Courses offered by top ranking universities are not always the best. Universities that rank lower down may deliver outstanding courses in specific areas, due to expertise and the facilities that may be available.

Also note that the measures used in the subject tables are the same as the main University League Table, except that only five measures are used.​ For a well-rounded view it is important to also consider other sources of information, for example the university profiles.

Entry Standards

This measure indicates the average UCAS tariff that students have when entering the university. These are not the Entry Requirements, but instead give an idea of what level the average student achieved in their A levels or equivalent.

It's good to have a spread of universities on your UCAS application, including one 'reach' university and one safety net. Entry Standards can help you choose this range. Note that we currently use the old UCAS tariff.

Student Satisfaction

If you want to know how happy students are with the quality of teaching at their university, then use the Student Satisfaction measure. It has a maximum score of 5.00, and it may be an extremely useful aspect for you to consider if you wish to be a happy student.

Happiness is subjective, however. You might like a certain aspect of a university a lot more than somebody else does.

Research Quality

Research is an important activity in any university. It measures how good the quality of research is, and has a maximum score of 4.00.

A university with a high score implies that students are taught by experts in their field, and what they learn is likely to be of high quality.

Research Intensity

This rates the volume or amount of research going on in a university rather than the quality of it. This measure tells you how many of the academic staff are engaged in research, and has a maximum score of 1.00.

Two heads are better than one, but this does not necessarily mean that the research from each member of staff is to the same standard. Use this alongside the Research Quality measure.

Graduate Prospects

The main reason many attend university is in order to gain a degree and be more attractive in the job market. This measure shows how employable a student is after graduating from a university with their first degree. It has a maximum score of 100.0. 

A low score can suggest that graduates are more likely to enter into a non-professional role. Also note that some universities may have a high intake of students from areas where few graduate jobs are available. Take a look at What Do Graduates Do? for more information.

Student–Staff Ratio

For many, small and intimate classes are important for student learning. The Student–Staff Ratio measure helps with knowing what the levels of staffing are like at a university. It indicates the class sizes by showing the average amount of students there are to each staff member.

This doesn't guarantee the quality of teaching, but it is still useful to know whether a personal tutor will have to spread their time between numerous students or just a few. This measure does not feature in the specific subject tables.

Academic Services Spend

This indicates how much a university spends per student on all academic services including libraries, books and computing facilities. For many this is important, especially if students do not own their own laptops.

The higher the spend, the more likely you'll have more and better quality academic services to use for your educational benefit. This measure does not feature in the specific subject tables.

Facilities Spend

Living away from home for the first time can be daunting, so universities have facilities in place to help students feel comfortable. This measure signifies how much a university spends per student on all student and staff facilities, such as sport, careers services, health and counselling.

The higher the spend, the more likely you'll have more and better quality facilities to enjoy. It also suggests how committed a university is to the well-being of its students. This measure does not feature in the specific subject tables.

Good Honours

It is important for many students to know whether attending a certain university will help them achieve the best grades possible. The Good Honours measure shows what percentage of first degree graduates achieve a first or upper second class honours degree.

The outcome of a degree can have an effect on how employable an individual is, so a high score for a university can reassure you that you are on a likely path to success if you study there. This measure does not feature in the specific subject tables.

Degree Completion

Another way to tell if a course will be the one to suit you is by using the Degree Completion measure. It shows the rate of completion of first-degree undergraduates at a university.

If many students tend to leave the university before finishing their degrees it is demonstrated by a low score. This can strongly suggest that a university or subject area has not met the expectations of a student. This measure does not feature in the specific subject tables.

Other things to consider

  • Where a university stands in the overall league tables is important, but the quality of course may matter more.
  • A league table position reflects more that a university's performance over a single year. Many have built a reputation over the years, while some at the bottom are still carving out a niche.
  • Newer universities often demonstrate strengths in other areas in comparison to older, reputable universities. Modest institutions may have centres of specialist excellence, and even famous universities have mediocre departments. 
  • Be aware of bunching – in some tables, the rankings are separated by a very small difference between university scores. In these circumstances, you shouldn't take the ranking differences between universities too heavily. This happens to variations in one university's league table performance over a few years.
  • Read the full methodology of how the tables work.