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Issue 482, 20 May 2002

New tables prove size matters

The University's contribution to higher education is not fairly reflected in the recent spate of newspaper league tables, Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Alan Wilson wrote in the Financial Times (May 11).

The way in which these tables are compiled – using a methodology which enables organisations of widely different size to be compared – discriminates against larger organisations with a broad range of academic activity, he argued.

"It's common practice to attempt to remove size effects, on the grounds that this makes the resulting comparisons reasonable and does not unfairly advantage large institutions," Sir Alan wrote.

"Fair enough. If well done, this does measure something. However there is an alternative perspective – that weights the quality ratings by size and so in a real sense measures the quantity of quality delivered."

Such an 'alternative' perspective, which takes into account not only the quality but the volume of university research, teaching and widening participation activities, produces a league table headed by Oxford, Leeds, Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan and Cambridge.

"The results are interesting not least because they mix different kinds of universities in a way that I haven’t seen in other tables," Sir Alan said. "In particular, new universities vie with Russell Group universities in the composite league table, showing the different mixes of contributions from different kinds of universities in our diverse system."

See the FT article and alternative league tables drawn up by the University's academic support unit at www.leeds.ac.uk/media/quality.htm

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