Birkbeck pulls out of ‘misleading’ UK university rankings

Birkbeck, University of London, is withdrawing from UK university rankings because it feels they do not fairly recognise its strengths, or represent it in a way helpful to students.

It is pulling out of future domestic tables, arguing that, despite having highly-rated teaching and research, other factors caused by its teaching model and unrelated to its performance push it down the ratings.

Birkbeck’s governors believe it would be “better to be absent from the tables than to have an entry which gives a totally misleading view of the college”.

However, it will continue to be included in international tables.

Birkbeck says league table methodologies fail to do it justice because they reward entry tariffs, retention rates and student spend.

Professor David Latchman, Master at Birkbeck, said: “Essentially Birkbeck is being penalised for having a different teaching model to all other UK universities.

“People will assume this is a case of sour grapes because we don’t do well.

“But the truth is that Birkbeck is doing exceptionally well in the ways that matter most – our teaching and research are excellent and we are fulfilling our mission to open up high-quality education to a broader range of students.

“The tables struggle to deal with anything other than a campus university catering to 18-year-olds who have just moved away from home.

“We are poorly served by these tables and so are the students who glance at our position and may be put off from studying here.”

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: “I think this is a fascinating and brave decision.

“It may well make sense for Birkbeck because the league tables take a one-size-fits-all approach.

“The decision may also make sense for the league table compilers because it removes an outlier that doesn’t sit easily alongside the other institutions.”

He added that overall there are positives and negatives to league tables, but they are not going to disappear.

Mr Hillman continued: “So my preference would be to have more of them. That would help to show that every university is excellent at something.

“I would also urge university governors to be wary about holding vice chancellors to account for an institution’s league table positions.

“As with Birkbeck, the league table inputs don’t always match well with the mission of individual institutions.”

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