why does it matter where you do a degree?

(130 Posts)
ssd Tue 28-Jul-15 13:24:05

me again (sorry)

I've been learning all about the degree process here and its been an eye opener for me

but something I keep reading confuses me

posters have said its important to do the right degree at the right uni

and that's what's confusing me

I've looked up a certain degree at the 4 uni's local to us

the entry requirements are as follows

first uni; AAAAB

second uni;AAAA/AAABB

third uni;AABBB/ABBBB

fourth uni;BBBC

now they all state the same qualification at the end of the course, so why are the entry requirements so different? is it just not worth doing the degree at the fourth uni even though you will have a qualification at the end of it? will employers poo poo the fourth uni degree?

honest answers please!

Millionprammiles Tue 28-Jul-15 13:37:14

I'm guessing universities are perceived differently as each students performance is probably measured against their peer group?
So the more competent your peers, the harder it is to get a higher class of degree. And vice versa.

Unis are presumably setting entry requirements to reflect how much competition there is for places.

It's all a bit spurious anyway. Who's to say the 2.1 candidate with no outside interests would make a better employee than the 2.2 who played team sports competitively etc.

Backforthis Tue 28-Jul-15 13:40:58

All degrees are not equal. A degree from some universities carries more weight than from others.

Bonsoir Tue 28-Jul-15 13:43:23

All degrees are not the same in the way that all A-levels are. Each university has its own standards.

SacredHeart Tue 28-Jul-15 13:48:06

Depends what the degree is and your intentions after getting it. For example if you want to go in for masters and further a university that is ranking high in that area and has a large fund to support students is important. Also the opportunities, facilities and lecturers may be of a higher quality, which is a bonus and can increase depth and scope of the course.

This doesn't necessarily mean a Russell group either, it will vary subject to subject.

titchy Tue 28-Jul-15 13:50:30

Look at the league tables example here

Look at subject tables too.

As a very general rule of thumb the lower down the league table the lower the offer and the poorer regarded the university will be. There are exceptions of course, and you need to look at what's good for the subject as well as reputation of the university as a whole, and what's important to the student. Some degree courses it won't matter one jot - e.g. any Nursing degree will always get you a job, but Economics from Oxford is always going to be massively better thought of than Economics at bottom-of-the-league-table University.

Without knowing the subject, it's probable the 4th on your list is a low ranking, not particularly well thought of university and may well be poo pooed by employers.

It's like applying for a job at a Michelin starred restaurant and saying you have many years of experience as a chef. If your many years are at La Gavroche then fabulous. If they're at McDonalds not so good...

ivorynewbuilds Tue 28-Jul-15 13:54:23

Unlike GCSEs, Highers, A Levels etc., university degrees are not set by an external exam board.

Each degree is broken down into a series of modules. Lecturers will each decide a topic for each module, decide the content, set the exams and mark the exams themselves. The topics covered (beyond a basic grounding in the subject) usually reflect the research interests of each individual lecturer.

This means that despite having identical names, the degrees from two different universities can have completely different content and standards. In essence, it's not really the same qualification at all.

The general perception amongst both employers and the general public is (with some justification) that universities higher up the league tables tend to have higher standards, and that this is reflected in their entry requirements.

If you want to have a look at employability stats, then www.unistats.ac.uk will allow you to compare and contrast the same course at different unis (though those stats should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt - there have been allegations of falsification by universities).

SugarMiceInTheRain Tue 28-Jul-15 13:55:11

Even though the level of qualification is supposedly equal, the degrees vary massively in difficulty. I remember a friend who did a degree at an ex-polytechnic moaning about how she had to do one 6000 word dissertation for the end of her course and how much work it was. I was hmm because I had been submitting 2 6000 word essays each term of my course for my whole degree, and a dissertation was much longer than 6000 words. Of course, some employers will just be happy with any degree from any institution, but there's a good reason some universities are more respected than others!

CloserToFiftyThanTwenty Tue 28-Jul-15 13:59:42

As others have said, each university sets its own rules regarding the process and rigour of getting a degree. Eg some places will allow multiple re-sits of modules, and take the highest mark towards the classification. Some will only take the first attempt mark into consideration. Some places will require much more by way of team working / joint projects; some it's all about the individual student.

Sometimes it is simply the cachet of the name that will impress employers, usually because of "brand recognition", particularly in dealing with international companies

Gasp0deTheW0nderD0g Tue 28-Jul-15 14:05:01

All universities in the UK have to be inspected from time to time by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). This is a safety net that they are being run properly. They don't look in enough detail to be able to say that every university course is run to the same high standard.

Some degrees are examined in a lot more detail by a professional body which accredits it. This applies to most health-related disciplines and many vocational subjects, and in these cases you do have more assurance about standards.

The biggest single protection the student and their employers have that their class of degree is reasonable is that every single degree course offered has to have an external examiner. The External is an academic from another university who sees and comments on exam questions, samples of work and so forth and goes to the Exam Board meeting to give his/her opinion on the standard of work on the course. If the External were to say 'I think you are marking too high right across the board' alarm bells would ring and something would have to be done about it.

Having said all of that, there is no way on earth any employer would look at a student with a 2.1 in (say) Economics from LSE and a student with a 2.1 in Economics from London Met and think that they were equivalent, all other things being equal.

AyeAmarok Tue 28-Jul-15 14:07:13

The degrees won't be perceived equally by employers. There are exceptions to the rule as some not-so-good universities are amazing at one particular subject, and some RG universities are bad at particular subjects.

However, University of the West of the Highlands (semi made up) that gives unconditional offers to mediocre students, does open book exams where the lecturers give the questions in advance, allow resits and mark dissertations twice before final submission (true story) won't be thought of as well as one that asks for top grades and doesn't do any of the above.

basildonbond Tue 28-Jul-15 14:07:35

A student's peer group also makes a big difference to their university experience. If someone's capable of getting A*A*A or better then it wouldn't make sense for them to go to somewhere way down the league tables asking for BCC as they'd be completely out of sync intellectually with the majority of the students on their course.

A first from a university in the top 10 is massively impressive, a first from a university languishing at the bottom is not ...

ErrolTheDragon Tue 28-Jul-15 14:11:19

Back in the day, there did used to be external moderation - so better universities would be awarding more first-class degrees than others. Nowadays that isn't the case - some lower-ranking ones award far too many.

It does depend on the subject and career aspirations. If you want a career as a research scientist, then you should look at the worldwide research rankings - if you might want to postdoc abroad then going to somewhere with a good reputation matters. If you want to do engineering then you need to make sure that the course has the relevant accreditations. There are some courses for where a particular university may be anomalously well-rated (or not) for historical reasons.

(curious what the course in the OP is - I didn't think there were any which required more than 4 A-levels. confused)

AyeAmarok Tue 28-Jul-15 14:15:45

Having said that it would depend on the job you were applying for.

If you did an engineering degree at, say, the "second/former poly" university in a town that happens to be awesome at engineering, and much better than the RG uni in the same town, then engineering companies may know the poly is better and value it more than the RG one when hiring graduate engineers.

However, if the eng grad wanted to apply for Accountancy trainee jobs, the Accountancy firms may not know about or look into the intricacies and prefer the "bigger name".

titchy Tue 28-Jul-15 14:47:33

They're Scottish higher entry requirements errol, not A Levels.

ErrolTheDragon Tue 28-Jul-15 14:59:22

titchy - ah, right, I should have been able to work that one out. blush

JasperDamerel Tue 28-Jul-15 15:11:47

The course with higher entry requirements will tend to have a cohort of students who are better at the subject, which can be really important in a course with small-group teaching, and will tend to attract "better" lecturers, although this might not always mean better at teaching. A top university is the equivalent of a top set at school - there will be higher expectations of what the students are likely to achieve, so if you are very good at a particular subject you are likely have a better experience and learn more in an environment where academic excellence is the norm.

JeanneDeMontbaston Tue 28-Jul-15 16:56:03

In addition to status/course content differences, some universities have better facilities than others. It's worth (if possible) seeing how good the library is, insofar as you can judge, that sort of thing.

ErrolTheDragon Tue 28-Jul-15 17:02:22

And if it's the sort of course where a year in industry or abroad is possible, some have better contacts than others - that sort of thing probably doesn't show up in most stats.

twentyten Tue 28-Jul-15 17:49:35

Uni stats also shows student satisfaction and average salaries on graduation. A lot of large companies only visit a few targeted Unis to recruit because they rate that establishment/ course.

UptheChimney Tue 28-Jul-15 21:24:40

The reason the same degree at different universities may be valued differently is that not all universities are the same. In various ways, depending on your criteria for measurement, some universities are better than others.

Other posters have mentioned all sorts of things which your son might consider as his criteria for choosing particular degree courses. It's important to think about them: the kind of environment he'll be studying in, city location, campus or green field site, small or large, sporting facilities, orchestra. All those things are important to individual students. But I'll now talk about the thing that a lot of people prefer to gloss over ...

But the main thing is that a lot of universities were polytechnics before 1992. They taught a range of largely vocationally oriented qualifications, not always Honours degrees. Some of them are extraordinarily good at what they taught, and still are. However, their staff were not funded to do original research. So they taught from others' ideas, rather than their own research. They are now funded (sort of) to do research, but the results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) show that, generally (there are exceptions) there are "pockets of excellence" in the post-92 universities (sometimes called "new universities), whereas the older, established universities have a much greater depth & breadth of research achievement.

Research is new knowledge: stuff that no-one really knew or recognised before. It's one of the principal functions of a proper university, and feeds into teaching in a number of ways. It means undergraduates are taught by staff and Doctoral students who are engaged in developing ideas at the edge of the known field in their discipline and this excellence filters into teaching. Imagine being taught by the PhD student who made the recent discovery of a possible eye-witness account of Mohammed in a manuscripts collection at the University of Birmingham? Imagine being a first, second or 3rd year undergraduate and being part of a community where that sort of discovery s being made.

So if your DS is thinking of a generalist subject, then he should aim for the universities which are hardest to get into, and which score highly in a range of league tables. Don't rely on just one. And then look at the staff who will be teaching him. YOu can usually look up the staff profiles in a Department: see what books they've published and when (how recently?), what research grants they've won from the various Research Councils, and whether there are other sorts of awards and prizes eg from the Leverhulme TRust, or the Wellcome Trust, or the European Research Council. And so on.

If your DS is currently interested in "Modern Studies," then a good History or Politics degree would give him that sort of focus, but also huge scope for developing interests.

But if you're aiming for a generalist arts/science subject, it's best to go for the best you can manage: and that means highly rated staff research. Because that means that the general standard of teaching & learning will be higher than a department were original research is not the norm.

What I've said here will not please some MNers who resolutely hold to the idea that top flight researchers are rubbish teachers and research gets in the way of teaching. That is not only an incorrect assumption about good teaching and good research, but it's also an anti-intellectual, anti-educational one. It shows a lack of understanding of what a university education is about, and how it happens. We are training undergraduates to become graduates in a knowledge economy. Even if they don't go on to be researchers in university sense f the word, if they enter a profession, they'll be working with knowledge, ideas, concepts. THey need to be trained, challenged, pushed and encouraged by people who do this all the time, and in their own work. And as a stereotype of the reverse of "brilliant researcher/rubbish teacher" I offer you London Metropolitan University: "rubbish research/rubbish teaching.' And very low student satisfaction scores by whatever measure you want to use. And a stererotype just as inaccurate as the "brilliant researcher/rubbish teacher" one.

AyeAmarok Tue 28-Jul-15 22:22:58

Agree with Chimney

Metacentric Tue 28-Jul-15 22:56:43

What Chimney says is absolutely bang-on.

I'd just add to And then look at the staff who will be teaching him. that you need to make sure they'll actually be teaching; sadly, for undergraduates, a lot of red-hot researchers who are also red-hot in a lecture or tutorial are bought out from their teaching. Some who's in receipt of any of Leverhulme TRust, or the Wellcome Trust, or the European Research Council will probably not be teaching much, which is a paradox: evidence that they're good is also strong suggestion, at least, that you won't be seeing much of them.

JeanneDeMontbaston Tue 28-Jul-15 23:16:31

I agree with chimney mostly, but I want to disagree about London Met. Liz Kelly is there and I'd count myself hugely lucky to get to hear from her, let alone to be taught by her.

UptheChimney Wed 29-Jul-15 08:41:39

Oh sorry, I thought I tried to make it clear that my point about London Met is that to slag it off wholesale is just as much an inaccurate view of current universities as to say that the hot researchers are rubbish teachers, or won't be teaching you.

Metacentric you say I'd just add to And then look at the staff who will be teaching him.

My general point is that even if the Nbel Prize winner doesn't teach you, the fact that there is a Nobel Prize winner in the Department, Faculty, or even the University, will push up standards in the whole unit. Prize winners, large research grant winners etc rarely come out of nowhere. THey usually come from a research-rich environment, where academics are expected to be doing high quality & high impact research. That's what a "research-led" or "research-intensive" university is about. Whereas (and this tends to be in the ex-polys/post-1992 universities) there may be one or two really excellent researchers, but they are exceptions, rather than the rule.

Universities where highly-productive researchers work as the norm are generally better overall, and more highly regarded outside the university sector, than universities where high quality research is the exception.

So, ssd in Scotland, your DS wouldn't really go wrong to be aiming for either the University of Glasgow or the University of Edinburgh. A generalist degree from either will be highly regarded. And the beauty of the Scottish system (bedsides its fee structure!) is that for the 1st year, and into the 2nd year, students don't have to be on a single subject track. THey can do a few subjects and choose what will be their specialisation after a year of studying.

The downside of this is that you do get quite a few blaggers in subjects they think are "easy". Serious students & staff can find this frustrating.

(Please note I'm using qualifiers & modifiers throughout: I'm talking about what is usually or generally the case).

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