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This week the Guardian published their most recent university league tables. Lancaster dropped to seventh place from its 2010 position of sixth. We are still ranked within the top ten universities in the UK and surely a drop of a single place won’t matter a difference to our future job prospects. How much attention do we even pay to the league tables in the first place?
In years gone by, the methods used for applying to universities was a long winded and mundane task. The means in which we chose our university of preference was down to a few simple points; its location; where our friends and peers were planning on going or already attending; parental advice; and the tables upon tables of data produced by national newspapers analysing every detail of each university in the land, from male to female ratios to capital spending on staff and students.
During my own selection progress all I wanted from my university of choice was it be as close to the top ten as possible, as long as it was closer to the top than the bottom, I was happy. In 2008 when I was compiling a shortlist of universities I might attend, Lancaster University was ranked by the Guardian as 23rd in the UK, consequently I treated it as an insurance further down my preferred choices with more prestigious and well-placed universities taking my fancy. But on visiting the campus other more prominent points came to view: I fell in love its rural position; its number of beneficial pastimes and activities; and the obvious benefits of being a student with a caring and attentive staff. I had come to realise the league tables were just numbers on a screen and I could see for myself that Lancaster was by far the best of the universities I had applied for.
The league table I had used to base my shortlist of universities upon was only a guide and visiting the campus gave me a first hand impression that the university deserved greater accolade then a mediocre 23rd place. This belief came into reality with the university climbing to twelfth in 2009 and now stands at a very respectable seventh best university in the United Kingdom.
But enticing students to the certain universities isn’t the only use of the league tables; many employers will be aware of the league tables and use this scoring system to base his or her judgement on whether you went to a good university. So will this way of thinking have a direct impact on your future career?
Take Lancaster’s recent surge in years to its dizziest of heights in national university rankings. In 2004 and 2005, Lancaster dipped as low as 51st and 58th respectively in national rankings, an all time low. What if the employer you are applying to last used the league tables during this period and therefore has a diminished view of Lancaster University, would it be fair? Perhaps not, but the university ranking system is a means for an employer to rate your degree amongst the influx of students partaking in undergraduate degrees in recent years. In their position how would you decide which graduate to interview when all their educational achievements read in almost identical forms?
It could be argued to publicise the fact that you attended a top ten university during your studies on your CV and use the rankings has its benefits. But as with all statistics, they can be manipulated and made to work for you or against you.
Whether or not you read much into these newly published university rankings, you can be proud that you are attending one of the top ten universities in one of the world’s most prestigious graduate countries. Whether we are sixth or seventh in the league table will make little difference to us but perhaps in the future when students are paying significantly more, a universities position in the league table with grow in importance as students will be more selective as to where they will spend such a large amount of money.