25. 08. 2016

University League Tables: What Really Counts?

Last week was just about the most anxiety-inducing in the entire year for UK universities, waiting nervously to see how well they had done in the increasingly important ‘competition’ for students, hedged in as they are by ever greater pressure on core funding.

I can’t honestly say that I’m hugely enthusiastic about this growing emphasis on competition, and looking at Higher Education as just another ‘marketplace’, but as Chancellor of Keele University, I found myself rooting for my home team with some left-over Olympic energy – and unapologetic partiality!

2016 has already been a good year for Keele. We now appear at the head of three critical league tables:

• First for graduate employability (ie looking at the percentage of our graduating students ending up in employment or further study) amongst all broad-based universities.
• First for affordability – measuring the additional cost that students have to be prepared for over and above their student loans.
• First in the National Student Survey for the third consecutive year, joint only with the University of St Andrews. This Survey measures levels of student satisfaction with the quality of the teaching they’ve received – and is therefore a reasonably good proxy measure of how we might legitimately hope to do under any new ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ that the government is currently consulting on.

That’s pretty impressive – and a wonderful tribute to all the staff responsible for notching up those achievements.

Performing well in these league tables matters more and more, and partly explains why we ended up doing very well in ‘confirmation and clearing’ last week, allowing us to meet what was an extremely ambitious target for the 2016/17 academic year. What that means, in short, is further significant growth in home undergraduate numbers, and for the university as a whole.

So is Keele also number 1 on sustainability? Sadly not – as yet! Indeed, we came 48th in People and Planet’s 2015 University League, so we still have a long way to go. But we actually perform pretty well on most counts, as our latest (fourth) Sustainability Report demonstrates. Not all universities produce proper sustainability reports (which I’ve always argued should be mandated by government), but this is something that we take very seriously. It provides a comprehensive picture of everything Keele is now engaged in (including the co-hosting a few weeks ago of the World Student Environment Network Conference), not just ‘to promote sustainability in all that we do’ – as spelled out in our Strategic Plan – but, ultimately, to be recognised as the UK’s most sustainable university – judged by whatever criteria will be seen as most appropriate.

And that, after all, is why I was so excited to become Chancellor of this amazing place of learning – and three years into that particular journey, I feel nothing but pride about the contribution that Keele is making on multiple fronts. Including the critical task of enabling a generation of young people to understand just how significantly their world will be shaped by a whole host of sustainability challenges.

For further information about Keele University’s commitment to sustainability, visit www.keele.ac.uk/greenkeele

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