Welcome to the Guardian University Guide 2021. It’s been a tumultuous year for everyone, so if you’re feeling more confused than ever about what and where to study, don’t worry – this guide is here to help you make sense of it all.
Unlike other league tables, the Guardian rankings are designed with students in mind. Instead of focusing on academic research, we take into account what matters most to young people: how well will you be taught? Do current students rate their course highly? Which university provides the best chance of getting a good job?
We rank universities through eight different scores which form a total out of 100. These include what students say about their teaching, feedback and the course itself in the annual National Student Survey (NSS). We look at the sizes of classes through the student-to-staff ratio and how much universities spend on teaching per student, as well as students’ A-level grades, whether their academic performance improves at university (the value-added score), and how likely they’ll be to continue with their course. This year we’ve added new data on how many students get graduate jobs or go on to further study 15 months after leaving university. Any blank spaces mean there is data missing, so we focus on the other measures.
Remember: league tables aren’t the only factor to take into consideration when choosing where to spend the next three years of your life. You’ll also want to think about which universities are best at teaching the course you’re passionate about – so browse our subject profiles and tables. We’ve also complemented the numbers with expert advice on how teaching and contact hours at university differ by course, and how to decide which subject is right for you, as well as tips from students.
What’s in the Guide?
An overall league table of universities in the UK
We have ranked universities according to their Guardian score. You can see how they performed for each of the factors we think are important. We think the universities at the top of the table offer the best education and experience for students.
The higher up the university is in the overall league table, the harder it will be to get in. Column nine tells you the typical Ucas score of a person doing the subject you are interested in.
Not every university is in the overall table. Some specialist institutions teach very few subjects so we can’t rank them alongside more general universities, but they will still appear in the subject tables.
There are a few gaps in the columns, where data is missing. There are various reasons for this: one of them is a partial student boycott of the NSS last year. Where data is missing, the Guardian score has been calculated based on previous performance for that metric, and the remaining measures. To be listed at all, a university cannot be missing more than 40% of its data.
Rankings for every subject
The Guide also has 54 subject tables, so you can see which universities do well at teaching your subject area. Within each subject area there are multiple course options. For example, you may be interested in doing a course in illustration. Illustration falls into the subject area of design and crafts. So you could go to the design and crafts table, look at which universities do well at it, click on the plus sign next to the name of the university and look for the illustration courses. Or you could put “illustration” directly into the course search at the top of the tables and see what comes up.
You might need to know a bit more about the subjects universities offer, because there’ll be lots that you didn’t encounter at school. Have a look at the subject profiles, which were all drawn up with the help of the academics who teach them, and detail how you’ll be taught and what job you could get.
Clicking on the name of a university in the tables will take you its profile – you can read about what makes each institution special and get the info you need on fees, accommodation and bursaries. You’ll see how many students are male/female, and where they come from.
Key to the table headings
1. Guardian ranking for this year.
2. Guardian ranking for last year.
3. Name of university.
4. The Guardian score, out of 100, is a rating of excellence based on a combination of all the other factors.
5. Course satisfaction: the rating for the overall quality of the course, given by final-year students in the latest NSS.
6. Teaching quality: the rating for the quality of teaching on the course, given by final-year students in the NSS.
7. Feedback: the rating for the quality of feedback and assessment, given by final-year students in the NSS.
8. Staff-student ratio: the number of students per member of teaching staff.
9. Spend per student: money spent on each student, excluding academic staff costs, given as a rating out of 10.
10. Average entry tariff: typical Ucas scores of young entrants (under 21) to the department.
11. Value-added score: this compares students’ degree results with their entry qualifications, to show how effectively they are taught. It is given as a rating out of 10.
12. Career after 15 months: percentage of graduates who find graduate-level jobs, or are in further study at professional or HE level, within 15 months of graduation. It reflects how good the university is at employability.
13. Continuation rate: the percentage of first-year students continuing to second year.
A few points about the methodology
At some universities, there are so few students studying a particular subject that we can’t include them in the statistics. Courses with small numbers of students are listed at the end of each table, but are not given a ranking. That should not be taken as any comment on their quality.
In compiling our tables, we have been advised by an expert review group of professionals from UK universities. The group meets regularly to monitor changes in subject areas and the way data is collected, and makes sure we produce the best possible guide.
The tables have been compiled for the Guardian by Intelligent Metrix, an independent consultancy that specialises in measuring performance in higher education. The rankings are based on official data collected by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) and the NSS.
If you want to know more about the methodology used to compile the tables, read the full explanation from Intelligent Metrix.