top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe Parents' Guide to

Understanding league tables

Don’t get too obsessed with the national league tables which are published annually by the Complete University Guide, The Guardian and The Times / Sunday Times. They cover a range of factors including student satisfaction, entry standards, facilities and academic services amongst others.

Birmingham University: The Parents' Guide to
Birmingham University

Well established universities have had a long time to hone their subject offerings and know how to perform well in league tables. By contrast, new universities do not have this advantage but often excel by offering new, innovative subjects which can prove more relevant to today’s working environment. A variance of 20-30 places could indicate as little as a couple of points difference. It’s also worth noting that universities that rank highly in national tables don’t always rank well in international tables as the criteria applied are different. If you spot a big difference, it’s worth visiting the university website directly, as they sometimes offer explanations.

Newcastle University: The Parents' Guide to
Newcastle University

An alternative approach to national league tables:

1. Subject specific league tables

It’s worth reviewing league tables to see how the chosen university delivers in the specific subject areas of interest. This is different from the league tables of how your university performs overall. It’s possible that a university may rank low on overall league tables, but be very strong and well-respected in a particular area of study (and vice versa). Also, check for professional accreditation by approved membership bodies if seeking out a professional degree – this is a good indicator of whether the course is highly regarded within industry and whether or not it’s on par within the UK and internationally.

2.The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF)

To assess the quality of teaching within a university, consider the TEF rating which is decided by an independent expert panel including students, academics and employer representatives. Ratings awarded are gold, silver or bronze. Participation is voluntary, so not all universities will have TEF ratings. Do note that a revised TEF scheme has been under development and results should be available from September 2023. Meanwhile universities have been advised not to advertise their ratings, as many ratings are out of date and not a current reflection of teaching quality. That said, it may be worth reviewing how universities have been rated in the past as an indicator of teaching trends.


To find out more about what you can do to support your child in finding the right university for them, check out our Parents' Guide to University.

The Parents' Guide to University


bottom of page