College response to The Founder regarding league tables

The College has traditionally fared well in The Times Good University Guide, but in the 2008 Guide (published 2007), one of the reasons it dropped was owing to inaccuracies in a single year’s figures when it filed an inflated number of students for 2003-04 with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The error was rapidly corrected, but HEFCE did not pass the corrected data to HESA. The incorrect number exaggerated our apparent drop-out rate for the following years and reduced our apparent spend per student, but it did not indicate a ratio of 400 students per lecturer (as claimed in the anonymous letter to The Founder in November last year). Owing to the publication date of the Times League table, data from the same year were used again this year for the “drop out” rate metric in calculating our league table position.

Tom Matthews is right to point out that it is actually difficult to see what has made such a difference when our performance in only 3 of the 8 metrics in the Times League table was worse than last year (student satisfaction, student-staff ratio and “good honours”).

We have been working hard on ensuring that we continue to improve our outcome on student satisfaction and have been making significant investments. The largest single investment has come in response to student requests for social learning space. As a pilot project, £1 million has been allocated to the refurbishment of Level 2 of the Bedford Library which will open at the start of term. The new facility will provide improved group study and social learning space, increasing the number of seats for students on that floor from 85 to 230, while maintaining all current book stock and current Library services. Services in the space will be improved by the addition of IT support, refreshment facilities, and better organization.

Other investments we have made may impact positively on our league table positions in the future. We’ve invested £300,000 in IT improvements including increasing and improving bandwidth, upgrading the printing system and virus protection, refurbishment of PC laboratories, installation and upgrade of AV equipment in teaching rooms, base-level wireless network provision in Founder’s and the launch of a Service Desk.

The student staff ratio is actually less than one student per staff member worse than the previous year and this, at the overall College level, can be owed as much to the overall subject mix of students we have in College in any one year than a worsening of the ratio per se. The incorrect data did not impact the SSR for last year or this year’s Guide as the Guide uses 2005-06 staff and student data (and 2004-05 for the previous year). It was the completion (or “drop out”) and spend per student metrics that were impacted owing to the fact that they used the 2003-04 (incorrect) data in their calculations.

As for the proportion of students who achieve a first or 2:1 (“good honours”), the College has a consistent average of around 66% over the years. Last year was an exceptional year when over 70% achieved good honours!

As Tom said, small differences in each of the measures can make very big differences in league table position.

But despite some disappointing overall positions, academic departments consistently rank as some of the best in the country for Research quality; Entry standards and Graduate prospects. In the Times Good University Guide 2009, the departments of Media Arts, Drama, French and Geography are ranked in the top ten nationally. In the Complete University Guide 2009, Drama, English, French and Geography were ranked in the top 10, and in the Guardian University Guide 2009, Drama, Earth Sciences, Geography and Media Arts appeared in the top 10.

The College takes the quality of its studentsÂ’ experience very seriously and remains committed to delivering a high quality academic experience and maintaining its international reputation for excellent research.

League tables no doubt contribute to studentsÂ’ decisions as to where, and which subject, to study, but are unlikely to be the only factor influencing these decisions.

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