University rankings can have many uses. Whether you are trying to pick the best university for you based on how it compares to others on certain criteria or even if you simply want to know which university is considered to be the best, in the country, the continent or even in the whole world.
Regardless of your reasoning for using university rankings, you may struggle in figuring out which one you should use as there is so many to pick from. This is particularly important as finding out which university really is the best or which university is best for you due to its ranking in certain categories may depend on how accurate and reliable the ranking actually is.
In short, when looking at UK universities, the best university ranking system for you to use is the Times and Sunday Times Good Universities Guide university ranking as it is considered the most trusted. However, other good options for UK university rankings include The Guardian’s ranking and The Complete University Guide’s ranking. For international university rankings, the best 3 university ranking system for you to use are the QS Top Universities ranking, the Times Higher Education ranking and the Academic Ranking of World Universities.
Continue reading to learn more about the different university rankings and which out of these is the best. This article will take you through the important questions that you might have surrounding university rankings and comparing these.
Table of Contents
Which university rankings are there?
Before we can properly delve into which university ranking you should be using, we first need to look at what our options are. By this, I mean that we have to look at the different university ranking systems that you might be able to use, whether to help you make a decision or for whatever other reason.
There are many different university rankings that compare universities, whether these are worldwide or in a specific country, such as the UK or the US. As there are so many of these, I can’t tell you about all of them. Due to that, in this article, we’ll look at the main ones worldwide and, in the UK, and consisted out of these which one is the best.
Look at the following list to see the main university ranking systems that we’ll look at in this article.
- The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide
- QS Top Universities
- The Guardian
- Times Higher Education
- The Complete University Guide
- Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)
You can learn more about each of these university ranking systems in the following sections.
What is the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide university ranking system?
The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide university ranking system was created by the newspaper, The Times, and is published as a segment in The Sunday Times. The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide and by extension its university ranking is arguably a more premium service. This is because to access this segment of the newspaper and its ranking, you need to subscribe to it for a certain monthly fee.
For more information about the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide university ranking, check out this article by News UK. To learn more about the subscription basis to access the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, you can check out this page on The Times website.
What is the QS Top Universities university ranking system?
For its 2024 university ranking, the QS Top Universities ranking is on its 20th addition of worldwide university ranking. This ranking includes over 1500 higher education providers and is run by the British company, QS Ltd.
The methodology of this ranking system is focused on 4 main categories and 6 key indicators. The 4 categories are research reputation, the learning and teaching experience, the research impact and internationalisation.
Whereas the 6 indicators or metrics are their global academic survey, their employer reputation survey, citations, faculty to student ratio, international student ratio and international faculty ratio. For 2024, they have also added measures on sustainability, employment outcomes and the international research network of each university.
What is The Guardian university ranking system?
The Guardian’s university ranking system for UK universities began in 2008 and as its name suggest, it is published by The Guardian newspaper. For The Guardian’s university ranking system, there are 8 different metrics that each university will be compared to, giving them a score out of 100.
These 8 metrics are as follows.
- Entry standards
- Student to staff ratios
- Expenditure per student
- Value added
- Student satisfaction of feedback
- Student satisfaction of teaching
- Career prospects
For more information about this methodology for the 2024 university ranking, check out this article on The Guardian website. You can also check out this article on The Guardian website for more details on how this university ranking system works.
What is the Times Higher Education university ranking system?
The Times Higher Education university ranking first began in 2004 and is run by the British magazine of the same name. It provides a global university ranking, rather than just one of UK universities, and includes over 1,500 different higher education providers in its ranking as of 2023.
In its methodology, the Times Higher Education ranking system uses 13 different metrics to weight different universities up against one another and to create the ranking. While it has so many different metrics, these are within 5 larger categories.
Look at the following list to see what these larger categories are and what the individual metrics within these are. Please note that some of these metrics will be repeated as they can be used for multiple categories.
- Teaching– This includes the 5 metrics of a reputation survey, the staff to student ratio, ratio of doctorate students to undergraduate students, the number of doctorates awarded per academic staff and the income of the institution.
- Research– This includes the 3 metrics of a reputation survey amongst academic peers, the research income and the research productivity.
- Citations– This is a metric on its own.
- International outlook– This includes the 3 metrics of the intentional to domestic student ratio, the international to domestic staff ratio and the amount of research that the university has carried out with international collaboration.
- Industry income– Once again, this is a metric of its own.
What is The Complete University Guide university ranking system?
The Complete University Guide is a website dedicated solely to university league tables and rankings as well as giving students advice about university and for their research into finding the right university for them.
Since moving to be only online in 2007, the Complete University Guide has released 17 university league tables/ university rankings. Please note that this information is true to 2023 and includes the 2024 Complete University Guide league table.
The Complete University Guide’s university ranking system is once again based off a range of different metrics. For this ranking, there are 7 metrics that are used in order to create the ranking. You can see what these 7 metrics are by looking at the following list.
- Entry standards
- Student to staff ratios
- Spending on academic services
- Facilities spending
- Graduate prospects
- International student enrolments
For more information about the methodology that The Complete University Guide uses to create their rankings for their league tables, check out this page on their website. If you would like to learn more about The Complete University Guide and its rankings, check out this page on its website.
What is the Academic Ranking of World Universities university ranking system?
The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) university ranking system was first published in 2003, when it was run by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. However, since 2009, it has been run by the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy (as of 2023), which is separate from any university.
As the name suggests, this university ranking is global and in fact, over 2,500 different universities are ranked within this process. However, only the top 1000 will end up getting published as a part of the official ranking.
For this ranking, there are 6 different indicators or metrics that decide what the university rankings are. These are split into 4 larger criteria.
You can look at the following list to see what these larger criteria are and what the individual metrics within these are.
- Quality of education- The indicator for this criterion is the number of alumni winning Nobel prizes or fields medals.
- Quality of faculty- One indicator for this criterion is the number of staff winning Nobel prizes and fields medals. The other indicator is the amount of highly cited researchers.
- Research output- One indicator for this is the number of papers published in nature and science. The other indicator is the number of papers indexed in Science Citation Index-Expanded and Social Science Citation Index.
- Per capita performance– The indicator for this is the per capita academic performance of the university.
Which university ranking system is the best in the UK?
As there are so many different university ranking systems, it can be hard to pick which one to use. However, it makes sense for you to use the best university ranking system, right?
This is because this one university ranking system that is the best will be more reliable and accurate and help you make more informed decisions or judgements. The only problem with deciding which one is the best is that it can be incredibly subjective, and you might even be wondering how you’re supposed to come to this decision of which is the best.
In this case, the best university ranking system for UK universities is considered that due to being the considered the most trusted. This suggests that it is very reliable and accurate.
As of 2023, the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide university ranking appears to be considered the best one for looking at universities in the UK. You can find out more about this by clicking on this article by SI-UK.
While the reasoning is unclear, this is likely due to the fact that the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide and its ranking is a bit more premium than the average ranking. By this, I’m particularly referring to how you need a subscription to access it, unlike most of the other university rankings.
Which university ranking is best in the world?
While the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide may be considered the best when it comes to looking at universities in the UK, this isn’t particularly the case for looking at universities around the world. For the “best” university ranking systems in the world, it would appear that the most popular 3 should all take this spot.
The most popular 3 of worldwide university rankings are the Times Higher Education ranking from the magazine of the same name, the QS Top Universities ranking from the QS company and the Academic Ranking of World Universities from the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. For more information about this, check out this article by Xenyo.
Do university ranking matter in the UK?
Having looked at which university ranking system is best for you to use, you might be wondering if any of these matter at all. The simple answer to this is that it will depend on what you want to use the university rankings for and whether or not there is a more important element of that university that isn’t considered in these rankings.
However, this can still be quite difficult to decide for yourself if it really is important or not. To help you decide, look at the following table.
|Why university rankings matter||Why university rankings don’t matter|
|Provide students with guidance when choosing university.||It can be better for students to choose their university options based on their own criteria rather than the one in the ranking.|
|University rankings are data-based so should be accurate.||University rankings aren’t 100% reliable and so you may need to take them with a pinch of salt.|
|University rankings are based on a range of different factors.||University rankings leave out lots of other details about the university.|
|Employers typically don’t care about your university’s ranking.|
You can learn more about these reasons for each side and even more of these by checking out this Think Student article.