Things looked rosy for Cambridge last month. Yes, the university may have lost pole position in the world university rankings to nerd’s paradise MIT. But in taking second place, three slots clear of its great rival Oxford and two ahead of UCL, it reaffirmed its status as the UK’s leading light in higher education.
Or did it? Today’s world rankings paint a different picture. Cambridge only manages seventh place, while Oxford clambers up to joint-second. UCL is a mere 17th. And what of MIT? Much lauded for its apparently peerless technological research last month, it now gazes up longingly at first-placed California Institute of Technology.
The obvious reason for these discrepancies is the use of different ranking systems. Today’s Times Higher Education tables are a different beast to last month’s QS World University Rankings. Although nominally answering the same question, they don’t share a methodology, a data set or indeed a winner.
Rather than argue over which is right, UK universities should perhaps just be glad that the widely respected Shanghai Ranking is less well-known on these shores – none of our universities come close to ending Harvard’s 10 years at the top of that list.
So, where can prospective students turn for answers? The simple truth is that there is no such thing as a definitive table. But in fact the wildly differing outcomes of these tables make them more, not less, useful. The key is in knowing how to interpret them. More...