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London universities overtaking Oxbridge and north left in dust

(76 Posts)
BrendaBlackhead Thu 18-Dec-14 09:11:01

story here today:

www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-30521423

Out in the sticks dcs are all dooooomed: ordinary pupil cannot afford to have a good London university experience due to having to live 20 miles out in a shed, so it'll be all rich overseas students and those lucky enough to have parental homes there that will triumph.

uilen Thu 18-Dec-14 09:30:11

I don't think you should take these results too seriously.

First of all, there isn't that much to choose between the top 20 institutions in any given subject. Secondly, the amount of fiddling that goes into the REF is almost unbelievable (part-time appointments, juggling who to submit, hiring people at the last moment to include etc etc). Thirdly, the rankings change according to the criteria - REF produces multiple lists according to different criteria.

The BBC's headline is quite misleading. Of course London and Oxbridge are high on the lists, but in any given subject universities outside these are also in the top 10.

Finally, REF has limited relevance to undergraduate study. The quality of the research at an institution is not and should not be the dominant factor in choosing an undergraduate course.

chemenger Thu 18-Dec-14 10:21:03

REF is entirely based on research and is a complicated game with a great deal of time squandered spent on deciding strategy and tactics in order to maximise a department's outcome. It does not measure teaching quality or student experience and I doubt if an undergraduate would feel any different in a department at the top of its table to one in the middle. There may be a difference in experience between a research focussed university and a less research intensive one (so top and bottom of the table) but if there is a fair proportion of quality research going on that is fine. I speak as someone whose department has significantly improved this time in REF, it does not feel like a different place on the ground to me and I suspect not to the students either.

UptheChimney Thu 18-Dec-14 11:15:25

What chemenger says (even though my department topped one of the league tables).

For complicated reasons, the first league tables published at one minute past midnight this morning are not the most accurate indicators of research excellence, nor do they include teaching quality or student satisfaction.

REF exhaustion

crazyspaniel Thu 18-Dec-14 11:36:20

The REF has nothing to do with teaching. Some of the departments / universities that do well in the REF game the system by poaching research stars who then do little teaching anyway. Even if it were an accurate system of evaluation (which it certainly is not), it needs to be considered at a subject level. As stated above, you will find many subjects where Oxbridge / London are not at the top of the game - in the humanities, for example, universities such as Warwick, York and Birmingham come out higher in many subjects (Oxford came 36th in my subject). The REF is not fit for purpose (and criminally-expensive and time-consuming, to boot), and I say this as someone whose department has done very well in the rankings published today.

SecretSquirrels Thu 18-Dec-14 13:19:59

We live in the sticks in the North. DC at bog standard state school.
Cost seems to over ride ranking from student point of view as far as I can see. I know of only one of DS1's cohort who even applied to a London uni because of the cost of living there.

chemenger Thu 18-Dec-14 13:21:51

I have to say here that my department also topped one of the tables, just in case you thought we had improved from 201 to 195 or something! (and not to say that whoever is at 195 does not have strengths other than research that make it a worthwhile place to be).

titchy Thu 18-Dec-14 13:34:32

Well the BBC are wrong - UCL are NOT top - they are below Oxford and Cambridge. Cardiff and Warwick are 5th and 7th respectively. Edinburgh 10th, Sheffield 12th.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Thu 18-Dec-14 13:39:00

I wouldn't use the REF to decide where my child would have a good experience of university any more than I'd use the NSS, to be honest!

uilen Thu 18-Dec-14 14:48:32

By research strength UCL are top. As I wrote above, the ranking depends on which list you are looking at.

(And I am another one at a "top" institution, so it is not sour grapes on my part.)

titchy Thu 18-Dec-14 15:24:58

They're only top by strength because of the sheer number of staff they have! Not by any measure of the quality of those staff, though they are pretty near the top.
It's like saying the massive comprehensive school that gets all its students As is better than the much smaller one that gets all its students A*s!

AtiaoftheJulii Thu 18-Dec-14 15:32:11

Lots of universities are careful about who they return for the REF. UCL seem to have gambled by submitting everyone, accepting the slightly lower gpa, and thus doing very well as regards money smile

Different universities will be putting different spins on it, all providing various analyses of the data which shows they're the best smile

ignominious Thu 18-Dec-14 15:38:04

The REF is total nonsense. A lot of researchers included never enter the department.

AllMimsyWereTheBorogoves Thu 18-Dec-14 16:05:41

Fascinating. UCL sent all its alumni an email this afternoon to tell us how well they've done. They've peppered their webpages with infographics with 1st, BEST and HIGHEST in huge type sizes. Made me laugh.

Meanwhile, looking out of nosiness at the websites for the universities where my children are studying and the other options they considered and where people I know work as academics, one thing stands out - everybody's a winner! I came across this piece from the THES on another thread and thought it was very funny indeed.

uilen Thu 18-Dec-14 18:03:00

They're only top by strength because of the sheer number of staff they have! Not by any measure of the quality of those staff, though they are pretty near the top.

But as another poster wrote they seem to have submitted most of their staff (this is true at least in the fields I know). Other institutions have manifestly withheld a significant fraction of their staff, which pushes the GPA up.

I agree that the REF is total nonsense, on so many different grounds.

MillyMollyMama Thu 18-Dec-14 20:23:50

The London universities are the destination of choice of overseas students who see London as the centre of the universe. I would not worry that uk students do not apply there in great numbers from the North, or even the South, due to cost of living because there are great universities elsewhere and a better university experience! It is only MN parents who get hung up on these tables. My DD looked at a course at UCL that had 80% overseas students. Not what she was looking for regarding her university experience but no doubt the research by the lecturers was good!

PiratePanda Thu 18-Dec-14 20:29:01

Look, the only point - the whole point - of the REF is to divvy up an increasingly small pot of MONEY. The universities who no how to play the real game will sacrifice coming "top" of the league table by putting in as many researchers as they can with decent outputs in order to maximise the money they will get back.

Top means bugger all. That's why UCL are indeed the real winners, and why King's London (or whatever they call themselves now) have done bloody amazingly. Much better than Cardiff who ostensibly are one place higher but will get far less money because they submitted far fewer people.

It's a stupid game. Utterly wasteful of taxpayers' money. Anyone else notice that all the top "impact" universities are ones with big medical schools? And that the top 20 look exactly like the THES world rankings top UK 20, give or take a few place movements, which are calculated without needing the REF and which goes to show that the REF is really truly unnecessary?

What a pointless waste of time. I say that as someone whose university and department has done top ten well.

Needmoresleep Thu 18-Dec-14 20:33:39

MMM you state confidently that London is a less good experience. Why. LSE has recently been voted as providing the best University social life. Equally DS' friends at Imperial seem to be having a great time.

Do you have evidence or are you simply repeating MN orthodoxy.

UCL equally seems a great place to study and those we know who have received offers tend to be delighted.

UptheChimney Thu 18-Dec-14 21:36:42

Cardiff did some shady stuff with the number of staff they declared eligible to be returned and the numbers they actually returned to make their "intensity" look better ... hmmmm....

UptheChimney Thu 18-Dec-14 21:41:49

But as another poster wrote they seem to have submitted most of their staff (this is true at least in the fields I know). Other institutions have manifestly withheld a significant fraction of their staff, which pushes the GPA up

Exactly.

Which department is better? Each has 20 members of staff.

Department A with 2 really good researchers, and the rest think that delivering a 20 minute conference paper once a year is "research." They enter those 2 hot researchers, each gets 4* and so they have a GPA of, say, 3.2

Department B has a few hot researchers, most of the rest working hard with some very good publications, but no Nobel prizes. They enter everyone on a research & teaching contract (ie standard academic contract) and achieve a GPA of 2.9

I know which place I think is the better research environment.

Hint: it's not Department A

AtiaoftheJulii Thu 18-Dec-14 22:01:03

But fortunately Dept B should end up with more money from the pot. And everyone knows that's what's really important. (E.g. Stefan Grimm. Google if you haven't heard that sad story.)

MissLivvy Thu 18-Dec-14 22:38:36

Agree with Needmore, my DD having the most amazing uni experience at UCL. She says can't imagine being anywhere else....which shows there are many great unis around the country, it's a question of finding the one right for you. You can't generalise about different peoples' experiences.

crazyspaniel Thu 18-Dec-14 23:09:26

The fact is that every university and, indeed, journalist can slice and dice the REF outcome in whatever way they please. There are, as far as I can see, at least 15 universities claiming that they are in the top 10. One business school which has tumbled out of the top ten is claiming that it is ranked third in the UK (which it is if you use the outputs ranking, but this is a rather dodgy bit of spin on their part).

Incidentally, does anyone know how is it possible for a department to submit over 100% of its FTEs? I have seen odd instances of 103, 110% submissions and don't understand how this works (you can probably tell that I don't work in a numerate discipline!).

UptheChimney Fri 19-Dec-14 07:49:01

Oh yes. a colleague in another department at my place was asking me that. It's because the number of eligible staff returned is a snapshot of the REF census date. The HESA data (ie the "intensity" percentage) is an average over the academic year (I think it's the 12-13 year). So if a department returned all its research staff (100% intensity) and after the REF census date people retired or left, it will register as >100%

titchy Fri 19-Dec-14 07:54:04

There are quite a few who appear to have submitted over 100% - even 500%!
The eligible staff data is from a different source, and reflects the latest available data with some adjustments. But a staff member could have been submitted under say Physics, then left and not been replaced, or not with a research active member of staff, so it would look as if more staff were submitted than possible.

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