Aimed almost solely at prospective students, The Guardian’s 2015 University Guide continues to distance itself from the ubiquitous national or international university rankings. The difference, although slight, is apparent in every stage, sub-field, and category of this rigorous study of the student experience in the United Kingdom. The Guardian Guide’s status as a student tool is noticeable in its absence of a foregrounded methodology, which has to be sought away from the smoothly navigable landing page. First and foremost the Guardian Guide aims to, in their own words, “keep our eye firmly on what universities can do for you.” The result is a balancing act of interactivity, data journalism, and purchase power, all placed in the iPad-wielding hands of the next generation of students.
Once located, the methodology appears at first relatively standard (omitting the Guardian’s relegation of research citations due to their apparent lack of impact on initial student satisfaction). Yet it is further down the research indicators that the singularity of the Guardian Guide begins to become apparent. One key indicator is university spending, that is; the amount of money allocated by each institution for Academic Services over the previous two years, calculating the division of that money per student enrolled. Guardian Guide also takes into account the average entry tariff as per UCAS scores, so shrewd (or snobby) students can gauge the talent of the students with whom they expect to share classes.
Arguably the most attractive indicator for students aiming to study in the fraught job market of the UK is that of employability within six months of graduation. This substantial bias towards material and economic gain (facilities and career prospects over research citations) is characteristic of many of the indicators that come to comprise the self-titled ‘Guardian score’, an idiosyncratic mark of excellence reached by combining the collective total of each factor.
Principally used as a tool to assist students in finding a course based on geographic, discipline, and merit, the Guardian Guide also prides itself on catering to students who still haven’t decided their preferred location or area of study. After a while perusing the neatly laid-out site, the tables begin to take shape as a handy means of ensuring universities balance the newly introduced higher fees with a commitment to remaining competitive in what has essentially become a market.
For those with an eye on prestige and reputation this year’s table shows UCL pushed out of the Top 10 and the London School of Economics falling four places, but with south-western powerhouse Bath rising up to fourth to join the familiar elite institutions:
- St Andrews
- Imperial College
- London School of Economics
The Guardian Guide reflects an ongoing trend in the United Kingdom to pursue value for money in education, a phenomena that has also extended to a focus on entrepreneurship and industry-specific training. It is a focus that seemingly all universities have begun to respond to and reveals the extent to which students are to be catered for with incentives. The drawbacks of the guide are the broad subject categories that come from an inability to shape the methodology around courses with smaller enrolment numbers. But on the plus side, budding data journalists and researcher can download all the raw data in spreadsheets and number crunch to their hearts desire.