Universities are being challenged over their ranking claims

universities in the UK have been challenged on claims they are
making about their position in rankings.

Nicole / Unsplash

University rankings are a quick way of working out the best place
you can go to study your subject. There are several different
ones, but the usual suspects often end up at the top.

In the latest World University
, the top three are Harvard, MIT, and Stanford in the
US. Cambridge University comes top in the UK rankings, and is
fourth overall.

However, according to the
, some universities in the UK have been challenged on
claims they are making about their own position in the charts.

The University of Reading, for example, has had to take down the
claim that it is in the “top 1%” of the world’s universities. The
Advertising Standards Authority said this figure could not be
substantiated and could be misleading.

The university agreed to remove the claim, meaning there will be
no further investigation into the matter.

Universities can get away with cherry-picking statistics like
these, because there are so many different rankings available,
including those that focus on specific subjects. The rankings
looks at things like graduation and employment rates, admission
requirements, scholarship opportunities, and student
satisfaction, as well as publications and research.

Sometimes one university will be particularly good at one
subject, so technically they could say they are high up in the
charts, without being too specific about where the figure comes

Charles Heymann, the University of Reading’s head of corporate
communications, told the BBC that the advertising
watchdog now needs to investigate every single other UK
university which claims it is in the top 1% in the world.

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“Like dozens of other UK universities in recent years, we judged
this put us in the top 1% out of an estimated 20,000 institutions
internationally,” he said. “We accept, though, the ASA’s view
that this could not be proved given no league table assesses
every single university worldwide.”

Overall in the latest rankings there has been a downward trend of
UK universities. According to Nick Hillman, Director of the
Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), university marketing
departments need to ensure everything they say is robust,
evidence-based, and genuinely useful to those that are being

“University rankings are strange beasts — for example, they are
largely measures of research yet they are used by students who
don’t generally do much original research,” Hillman told Business
Insider. “Between 30 and 40 UK universities currently claim to be
in the top 10, which proves such claims need to be taken with a
massive dose of salt while also showing just how many league
tables there now are.”

He added: “This whole issue will explode again next week when the
first teaching excellence framework
results are published, so it is a good thing that this specific
case has been resolved now.”

These are the Top 20 in the QS World University

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA
  2. Stanford, USA
  3. Harvard, USA
  4. Cambridge, UK
  5. Oxford, UK
  6. California Institute of Technology (Caltech), USA
  7. Princeton University, USA
  8. University of California, Berkeley, USA
  9. University of Chicago, USA
  10. Columbia University, USA
  11. Yale University, USA
  12. University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), USA
  13. Imperial College London, UK
  14. John Hopkins University, USA
  15. Cornell University, USA
  16. University of Pennsylvania, USA
  17. The University of Tokyo, Japan
  18. ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology,
  19. UCL (University College London), UK
  20. Tsinghua University, China
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