How the Good University Guide is compiled

A lot goes in to creating the Good University Guide. Here The Times break down how it's created.

Sources of data

The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide makes use wherever possible of the very latest data available on each of the measures in our academic and social inclusion rankings, much of it released for the first time during summer 2021.

Data on entry standards, student-staff ratios, services and facilities spend, completion rates, first-class and 2:1 degrees, graduate prospects and the 2014 Research Excellence Framework staffing data were supplied by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), which provides a system of data collection, analysis and dissemination in relation to higher education in the whole of the United Kingdom. The original sources of data for these measures are data returns made by the universities themselves to HESA.

The provision of the data by the above sources does not necessarily imply agreement with the data transformation and construction of the tables. Universities were provided with sets of their own HESA data, which form the basis of the table, in advance of publication, and were offered the opportunity to check the information.

The information regarding research quality was sourced from the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), a peer review exercise to evaluate the quality of research in UK higher education institutions, undertaken by the UK higher education funding bodies. Some universities supplied replacement corrected data.

In building the university league table, scores for student satisfaction (covering both satisfaction with teaching quality and with the wider student experience) and research quality were weighted by 1.5; all other indicators were weighted by 1. The indicators in the academic ranking were combined using a Z-score transformation and the totals were transformed to a scale, with 1,000 as the top score. For entry standards, student-staff ratios, first-class and 2:1 degrees and graduate prospects, the score was adjusted for subject mix.

The indicators in the social inclusion ranking were also combined using a Z-score transformation and the totals were transformed to a scale with 1,000 as the top score. No adjustments were made for subject mix. 

The detailed definitions of the indicators in both rankings are given below:

Institutional league table

Student satisfaction
The student satisfaction measure is split into two components that give students’ views of the quality of their courses.

i) Teaching quality
The National Student Survey (NSS) covers eight aspects of a course, with an additional question gauging overall satisfaction. Students answer on a scale from 1 (bottom) to 5 (top) and the score in the table is based on the percentage of positive responses (4 and 5: “mostly agree” and “definitely agree”). The teaching quality measure reflects the average scores of the teaching, learning opportunities, assessment and feedback, and academic support sections.
Source: National Student Survey, 2021

ii) Student experience
The student experience measure is drawn from the average NSS scores in the organisation and management, learning resources, learning community and student voice sections and the additional question on overall satisfaction.

Teaching quality is favoured over student experience and accounts for 67 per cent of the overall score covering student satisfaction, with student experience making up the remaining 33 per cent. For the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, where 2021 NSS data was not available, the 2016 scores for teaching quality and student experience were adjusted by the overall percentage point change between 2016 and 2021 among the cohort of universities in this league table. The adjusted scores were used for Z-scoring only, and do not appear in the final table.
Source: National Student Survey, 2021

Research quality
Overall quality of research based on the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (Ref). The output of the Ref gave each institution a profile in the following categories: 4* world-leading; 3* internationally excellent; 2* internationally recognised; 1* nationally recognised and unclassified. The funding bodies have directed more funds to the very best research by applying weightings, and for the 2018 guide we used the weightings adopted by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) for funding in 2013-14. A 4* output was weighted by a factor of 3, and 3* was weighted by a factor of 1. Outputs of 2* and 1* carry zero weight.

Universities could choose which staff to include in the Ref so to factor in the depth of the research quality, each quality-profile score has been multiplied by the number of staff returned in the Ref as a proportion of all eligible staff.

The score is presented as a percentage of the maximum possible score of 3. To achieve the maximum score, all staff would need to be at 4* world-leading level.

There are no scores in this category for Ravensbourne University, University of Suffolk and Leeds Arts University (as they were not universities at the time of Ref 2014 and therefore were excluded from it); also Buckingham (as a private university it fell outside of Ref 2014). These universities record an “n/a” for research quality. Plymouth Marjon, which elected not to enter any staff for Ref 2014, records a score of “0”.

A new Research Excellence Framework is due to be published in April 2022.
Source: UK Funding Councils and HESA, 2014

Entry standards
Mean tariff point scores on entry for first-year, first-degree students under 21 years of age based on A- and AS-levels and Highers and Advanced Highers, and other equivalent qualifications (for example, international baccalaureate). Entrants with zero tariffs were excluded from the calculation. International A-level outcomes are not included in the Hesa-sourced tariff point calculations, which may have depressed some universities’ scores in this area.
Source: HESA, 2019-20

Graduate prospects
Destinations of full-time first-degree UK-domiciled leavers. The indicator is based on the activity of leavers 15 months after graduation and whether or not they entered high-skilled employment and/or graduate-level further study. The high-skilled employment marker is derived from the new Graduate Outcomes survey, published in July 2021.
Source: HESA, 2017-18 and 2018-19 graduation cohorts, surveyed up to September 2019 and September 2020 respectively

Firsts and 2:1s
The number of students who graduated with a first-class or upper second-class degree as a proportion of the total number of graduates with classified degrees. Enhanced first degrees, such as a MEng gained after a four-year engineering course, were treated as equivalent to a first or 2:1. Two years of data were used in the calculation this year to partially offset the inflation in classifications for the class of 2020 due to pandemic disruption.
Source: HESA, 2018-19 and 2019-20

Completion rates
Percentage of students projected to complete their degree, including students who transfer to other institutions as a proportion of known data. The Hesa performance indicators use current movements of students to project the eventual outcome. The measure used in the table projects what proportion of students will eventually gain a degree and what proportion will leave their current university or college but transfer into higher education, and is presented as a proportion of students with known data.
Source: HESA Performance Indicators published March 2021 (table T5 — uses 2015-16 through to 2018-19 entrant cohorts. Except Hartpury University, no data.

Student-staff ratio
The number of students at each institution (as defined in the Hesa Session HE and FE Populations) as a full-time equivalent (FTE), divided by the number of FTE staff. It is based on academic staff, including teaching-only and teaching and research staff, but excluding research-only staff. For students on industrial placement for a full year, the FTE is adjusted to 20 per cent of the original, ie 0.2 for a full-time student. For students on an industrial placement for part of the year, the FTE is adjusted to 60 per cent of the original, ie 0.6 for a full-time student.
Source: HESA, 2019-20

Services and facilities spend
A two-year average of expenditure on academic services and staff and student facilities, divided by the total number of FTE students.
Source: HESA, 2018-19 and 2019-20, except Bucks New (HESA, 2019-20 only); Goldsmiths, University of London, Northampton and Plymouth Marjon (all HESA, 2018-19 only); Buckingham (HESA, 2017-18); and Hartpury (agreed adjustment to FTE student figure to separate College from University students).

Social Inclusion Tables

The metrics used in the social inclusion rankings for England and Wales published for the fourth time this year are drawn from datasets published by HESA and UCAS. In building the main social inclusion ranking, all nine measures in England and Wales were weighted and combined using a Z-score transformation. Institutional totals were transformed to a scale with 1,000 for the top score. A separate Scottish social inclusion ranking is published for the third time this year, featuring eight measures of social diversity, and also using HESA- and UCAS-sourced data, together with a measure from the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. Indicators and their sources below are for England and Wales, and Scotland, except where stated.

State school admissions (non-grammar)
The state school admissions data used in the HESA-produced performance indicators on widening participation (Table T1), published in February 2021, are used as the basis for the calculations on this measure. The data in Table T1 was reanalysed removing the 164 state grammar schools in England and the selective grammar school sector in Northern Ireland from the calculation to produce a figure that represents admissions to universities from the state sector, net of those schools that are 100 per cent selective.
Source: HESA, 2019-20

Ethnic minority students
The proportion of entrants to UK universities in 2020 drawn from black, Asian, mixed or other ethnic minority backgrounds.
Source: UCAS, 2020 admissions cycle

Black achievement gap
The percentage point difference between the proportion of firsts and 2:1s attained by white and black students. A negative score indicates that black students are achieving fewer top-class degrees. Where no data is shown, this is because the cohort of black students at a given institution is too small for a reliable calculation to be made.
Source: HESA Student Record, 2018-19 and 2019-20

White working class males
The proportion of UK-domiciled, full-time, first degree students who are male and drawn from white working class backgrounds.
Source: HESA
Student Record, 2019-20

Low participation areas (England and Wales only)
Calculated from the Polar4 measure, which classifies local areas into five groups, based on the proportion of 18-year-olds who enter higher education. These groups range from Quintile 1 areas with the lowest young participation in HE (the most disadvantaged 20 per cent of areas) up to Quintile 5 areas with the highest rates (the most advantaged 20 per cent of areas). This indicator records the proportion of students admitted to each institution drawn from Quintile 1.
Source: HESA Student Record, 2019-20

Deprived areas (Scotland only)
Calculated from the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). The proportion of students admitted from postcodes classified as SIMD20, the most deprived 20 per cent of neighbourhoods.
Source: Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation: Scottish-domiciled full-time first degree entrants — 2019-20 data

Low participation areas dropout gap (England and Wales only)
Calculated from the Polar4 measure, which classifies local areas into five groups, based on the proportion of 18-year-olds who enter higher education. These groups range from Quintile 1 areas with the lowest young participation in HE (the most disadvantaged 20 per cent of areas) up to Quintile 5 areas with the highest rates (the most advantaged 20 per cent of areas). This indicator records the percentage point gap between the continuation rates from year 1 to year 2 of students drawn from Quintile 1 against those drawn from Quintile 2-5. A negative score shows that more students from Quintile 1 are dropping out of their courses compared to those from Quintiles 2-5. Where no data is shown, this is because the cohort of Quintile 1 students at a given institution is too small for a reliable calculation to be made.
Source: Office for Students, access and participation data, 2019-20 (English universities only)

First-generation students
Proportion of students drawn from households where parents did not attend university.
Source: HESA Student Record, 2019-20

Disabled students
The proportion of students in receipt of Disability Support Allowance. This data was included in the performance indicators on widening participation, published in February 2021 (Table T7).
Source: HESA, 2019-20 (except Glasgow Caledonian and Strathclyde, Hesa 2018-19)

Mature students
The proportion of students aged 21 or over on admission to university. This information was derived from the same dataset as used in Table T1 of the most recent performance indicators on widening participation. The number of “young” entrants (those aged 20 or under) was subtracted from the total number of admissions to universities in order to calculate the proportion of mature students given places.
Source: HESA Student Record, 2019-20



Written by Zoe Thomas, with Alastair McCall, Nick Rodrigues, John O’Leary and Senay Boztas for The Times.

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