A marmite moment…..


University league tables are a bit like Marmite – you either love ‘em or hate ‘em – or maybe they’re more like playing Snakes and Ladders – up in some and down in others.  One Vice-Chancellor recently said, “When you go up, it’s all down to the brilliance of the team.  And when you go down – you simply pick holes in the data”, but, if we’re totally honest with ourselves, we love them when we do well and loathe them when we don’t!

So, on that front – I am simply loving the recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings, showing we’re now in the top 300 universities in the world – let’s be proud of that.

Whatever we think of leagues tables, it’s clear others think they’re important and results can impact on student recruitment, on staff in helping us to attract and keep talented people here and can be important in creating opportunities for partnering with others – indeed, some governments refuse to sanction student support or approval of joint ventures with low ranking universities.   We know however, that the way the different indicators are drawn together to give an overall ranking varies among the different league tables and is not consistent one to another, and this is a bit of a bug-bear for the sector. The majority also only look at the UK which in a globalised sector is rather short-sighted. That’s why we should give a shout-out to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings which has become the most influential of all league tables.  Now accepted as the world’s most comprehensive and carefully calibrated global league table, it uses 13 separate indicators to examine a university’s strengths against all of its core missions – teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

Given our excellent positioning globally, we can afford to pay all due cognisance to other tables too and use them as a window to see how others are doing – at subject level, in our Alliance group and our ‘aspirational’ set of universities too – and use them to see how we can get better – my mantra of going from ‘good to great’.  So, we will look hard at those metrics and measures that relate most closely to our Strategy 2020 here at Plymouth University and delivering our enterprise mission.

Well, whatever the table or the methodology used – the trend data says we’re on the up – Hurrah!

Now among the world’s top 300, our highest ranking since we first made it into the list two years ago, puts us in the top 1.5% overall, and in the top 20 in the UK for research citations. Unlike other league tables, the Times Higher Education World Rankings consider research citations as the most important factor of all and rightly so in my mind, as how well research papers are cited tells you far more about its quality, impact and reach than say for example, research income or similar which is a measure often employed in other league tables. In fact, ranked at 19th in the UK for research, we compare favourably against many in the Russell Group, but on much less research income – talk about value for money!

Even if there were no league tables, we simply know and feel that we’re among a new group of global modern elite universities, with Plymouth University being ‘off the curve’ in undertaking world-class research and being socially inclusive – staying true to our mission and values.

In short, league tables are influential, they’re here to stay and as the media become more inventive each year and launches new and proprietary ones, I don’t think I’ll lose too much sleep over our position in ‘best looking students’ or ‘cheapest pint’ which are bound to be in the pipeline if not published somewhere already.  But if there is a league table for having the most dedicated and talented team of staff and the best spirit of enterprise – then we’re definitely number 1 – so, well done everyone and thank you.

You can view the full Times Higher World Rankings at http://bit.ly/thewur

Categorized as October