Tutors favour London and Oxford ahead of Cambridge, writes Alastair McCall
Oxford emerges top of two unique surveys conducted for The Sunday Times
University Guide that canvass the opinions of university heads of department
and secondary school head teachers.
It is the first time any university has triumphed in both surveys. Oxford has
always finished top of our academics’ peer assessment exercise, now in its
fourth year, with Cambridge previously leading the way in our leading
academic schools from both state and private sectors.
This year, Cambridge finishes third in our school heads’ survey with Harper
Adams University College finishing second. Smaller specialist institutions
often perform well in the school teachers’ survey as it is easier to be
cited for excellence in a limited number of subjects than it is over the
wider range of courses provided by multi-faculty institutions.
More than 2,000 heads of department and admissions tutors across 30 subject
areas were contacted for our peer assessment exercise.
They were asked to grade from one (poor) to five (excellent) undergraduate
provision in their specialist area in fellow institutions. In all, 219
The final results show a remarkable correlation with our main league table.
The top five institutions for peer review all feature within the top six of
our overall league table, although Imperial College London, the London
School of Economics and University College London narrowly edge out
Cambridge into fifth place.
Several universities outperform their league table position when ranked by
fellow academics, notably Edinburgh (ranking sixth in peer review against
15th overall), Sheffield (eighth v 19th), Bristol (ninth v 16th) and
Manchester (10th v 21st). Leeds and Glasgow also make the top 20 for peer
assessment, while ranking 26th and 31st respectively overall.
Oxford retains its position as the leading university, according to academics.
Although Cambridge gets more excellent ratings (64) than Oxford (49), Oxford
gets the higher overall score because it gets no ratings in categories 1, 2
and 3 (poor to average).
Cambridge all but sweeps the board with perfect scores in chemistry, physics,
philosophy, mechanical engineering, history and law. Oxford scores heavily
in chemistry, physics, philosophy and law, while also recording a string of
top scores for economics and history.
Bristol (44), Edinburgh (43) and University College London (41) are the only
other institutions to get more than 40 top ratings. Edinburgh is strongest
in geography, computer science, law and art; Bristol gains the best results
of any university for chemistry, a subject for which it has been designated
a centre for excellence in teaching and learning; and UCL records most
perfect scores in art and design (it is home to the world famous Slade
School of Fine Art), law, geography, economics and biosciences.
Imperial College London, which ranks second in our peer review with 29 perfect
ratings, gets exclusively top scores for mechanical engineering, electrical
and electronic engineering, civil engineering, computer science and physics.
At the other end of the spectrum, Central Lancashire gets more poor ratings
from academics — 16 in all — than any other university. It gets a further 15
scores which rate it below average.
In total, academics passed 5,654 judgments. They gave 1,002 excellent ratings,
1,865 good, 1,467 average, 841 below average and 479 poor.
In our parallel survey of head teachers, questionnaires were sent to the state
and independent senior schools that feature in our Parent Power guide of the
top academic schools. They were asked to cite universities they felt
provided high-quality undergraduate provision. These 1,000-plus schools are
putting large numbers of students into the university system every year and
we asked their heads to base their judgments on direct experience and
feedback from former pupils. More than 1,000 opinions were expressed across
29 subject areas.
The University of the Arts London ranks fourth in our heads’ survey, joining
Harper Adams at No 2 and the newly-designated University for the Creative
Arts at No 5, in a strong performance among more specialist institutions.
(Arts London also ranks 36= in our peer review, well ahead of its league
table position of 74.)
The University of the Arts — which is made up of some of London’s leading
colleges of art including Central St Martin’s, Wimbledon, Camberwell and
Chelsea — continues to be the heads’ pick for art and design, fashion and
Arts London’s success in our surveys of heads and academics is in contrast to
its performance in the national student survey, where it achieves the lowest
ranking in the UK, earning just a 62.2% score under our analysis of
students’ returns. This disparity in the results between heads’ and peer
review, and student satisfaction ratings is found in many other universities.