Why the QS is BS

Luke Sproule on why your uni’s league table stats don’t mean jack.


 

Whenever university rankings come out I like to remember an old quote from Oscar Wilde, when he was stopped by a customs official and asked if he had anything to declare. “I have nothing to declare,” Wilde proclaimed, “but my genius.”

Wilde was almost as subtle and modest as UCL Facebookers after the release of the QS World University Rankings.

Wilde was almost as subtle and modest as UCL Facebookers after the release of the QS World University Rankings.

 

Now imagine it isn’t Oscar Wilde at customs in New York City, but a recent UCL graduate at an interview for, say, a law firm or an investment bank. As the interview concludes, the stuffed shirt on the other end of the table leans back and asks if the young alum has anything to add.

“I went to UCL! We are fourth in the world!” The interviewee says with an air of cocky self-confidence. “I have nothing to add to your company but my obvious genius!”

For that is basically what university rankings are all about, making students and universities feel good about themselves. What do you imagine the reaction of the employer in question is going to be? If you think such a statement will have made you more employable you’re seriously deluding yourself.

Of course you may not be pompous and arrogant enough to say such a thing, but the point remains, your employer will not care a jot about whether UCL is fourth in the world, or fifth in the world, or fiftieth in the world.

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Trying to play the “league table ranking” card at a job interview will probably ensure that you are Jameson-laughed right out of the building

 

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Now I’m not arguing that UCL isn’t an excellent university, it is, and I am very glad I went there. I got a good education and I am, apparently, more employable than the average graduate. But the world is an awfully big place, with a lot of good universities. QS can number crunch all they like, but university rankings are not fact.

Why else would UCL be fourth in the world according to QS but only fifth in the UK according to The Guardian whilst at the same time fifth in Europe according to The Times?

It’s because the margins between the top universities are fine, a good university is a good university and a league table isn’t going to be able to distinguish between them.

What matters to students, alongside career prospects, is whether their lecturers can actually teach, whether the union is as good as that other union down the road and whether student support is good whenever things go wrong.

 

If the union’s a dump then you will most assuredly not care about rubbing your league table stats in the faces of non-Russell Group unis

If the union’s a dump, it doesn’t matter how much you show off your league table position

What university rankings do instead is convince us that we’re better than everyone else, and all that leads to is complacency and arrogance.

Sure, my union may not be as good as theirs (and at UCL it really isn’t), the administration department would function better if it was run by that chimp who used to advertise PG Tips, and yes, it’s true that my lectures are boring and my course is a massive rip-off.

But none of that matters, right? Because I went to UCL and we’re fourth in the world and I’m better than you and therefore I will get a better job. Wrong.

Get your head out of the sand and look at the world out there. It’s a big bad one, and if you think UCL’s QS score of 98.9 compared to KCL’s 90.9 is going to encourage UCL to push for even higher fees and squeeze students until their pips squeak, you’ve got it in one.

If you think it’s going to allow you to walk into a job ahead of a KCL graduate- think again.