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Postgraduate rankings: assessing postgraduate program quality

The quality and standards of every UK postgraduate program is controlled in a number of ways, in part by each university itself and in part by quality assurance systems of other organisations via both official and unoffical rankings tables.

League tables and rankings have the advantage of giving a quick impression of relative quality and can certainly help you distinguish the very best from the very worst, they can also give you a good indication about the research focus and success of a university. But they need to be read with care and not used as the only source of information because they have a number of problems:

  • Each publication calculates its table or ranking in its own way, using a complicated formula that balances academic achievements and facilities, and it is not always easy to know exactly how the calculation has been done (although, for all the rankings outlined here, information about the methodology followed and the way the calculations are made is easily available). The publications producing the tables/rankings are often trying to emphasise particular aspects of universities – for example, The Guardian tables put very little weighting on a university’s research income and achievements, but put more weighting on its undergraduate teaching achievements.
  • The data used are not always up to date.
  • In most tables and rankings, the ‘score’ difference in the table is quite small. This means that there may be very little difference between universities that are separated by many places and, year by year, universities can move up or down a long way with only a small change in their data.
  • The data in the tables/rankings are mainly about research and about undergraduate programmes, so they may not be very helpful in choosing a postgraduate program.


It is now possible for you to make your own league table or ranking using the weightings that you think are important to you. This facility is available on The Times The Financial Times and Business Week websites, to name a few – but remember that the basic data involved is still that used to make their league tables or rankings.

So, you should treat league tables and rankings with caution, and look at several before you decide what the tables are telling you about a particular subject in a particular university. On the other hand, the universities and other institutions take the tables/rankings seriously, know that potential students use them to help in their choice and make great efforts to ensure the data on which the tables/rankings are based are as advantageous as they can be. Institutions at the top of the tables/rankings will say how useful they are – universities near the bottom will say they are of little importance!

Our extensive section on rankings for postgraduate courses and universities in the UK can help you make that all-important decision of which postgraduate program to choose. If you are interested in studying a postgraduate business program we have a dedicated section on business school and business program rankings to help you make the right choice.

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