What is the Guardian up to?

ARLT and NTGateway note the new Guardian league tables are out (see Archaeology and Classics). I saw the old ones and thought they were utter pants, but didn’t bother writ­ing on them because they old. I have applause for this new batch though. In Archaeology they’ve moved from inac­cur­acy to sur­real­ism. Kent comes in at 28, behind Glamorgan and Lincoln. It must be doubly galling for them because not only is it an undeservedly low score, but Lincoln and Glamorgan don’t even offer archae­ology. You could argue that Heritage Investigation counts but if you’re open­ing the field that wide then why doesn’t Leicester appear in the Classics tables?

The over­all score is the sum of indi­vidual marks in sev­eral cat­egor­ies, which seems plaus­ible, but the meth­od­o­logy for get­ting the fig­ures is baff­ling.

First up is the score for staff mem­bers per stu­dent. This is out of six. More staff can cer­tainly indic­ate more diversity in a depart­ment. That means that Cambridge for instance beats Leicester for American Archaeology, because we don’t really have any Americanists. On the other hand we rock when it comes to Classical Archaeology and Cambridge’s Archaeology Faculty has no Classical sec­tion. Assigning a numer­ical score out of six isn’t sens­ible. Not that any of this mat­ters. In Archaeology all depart­ments scored zero. How adequate is this data?

Next comes spend per stu­dent, out of ten. This fig­ure is a farce. In Classics Cambridge scores 5 to KCL’s 10. In Archaeology the situ­ation is far­cical. Oxford and Cambridge score 2 to Manchester and Cardiff’s 10. UCL, that’s University College London, the one with the massive insti­tute and all the machines that go ‘ping’ in it, scores one out of ten. The same as Leicester. Much as I like Leicester, I find it hard to believe that UCL didn’t edge us out on that one. This score makes a huge dif­fer­ence in the final rank­ings. If Leicester was cred­ited with com­par­able spend­ing to Cardiff, it would be in joint 4th place instead of 21st out of 30 for Archaeology.

Next is staff:student ratio. It has been cri­ti­cised as a lec­ture to 50 stu­dents can be delivered to 100 stu­dents with no loss of qual­ity. I can see that it is a high ration is of some bene­fit, but sem­inars are fre­quently given by post-grads at all uni­ver­sit­ies. They don’t cre­at­ing such an intim­id­at­ing atmo­sphere for stu­dents who are uncon­fid­ent in express­ing their ideas, in a way that a prom­in­ent pro­fessor who knows everything about everything can’t help doing. Again it’s irrel­ev­ant. Leicester scores five out of six, Kent one and UCL zero. I can­not work out where this fig­ure comes from. I do think we have a good staff / stu­dent ratio at Leicester, but I find it hard to believe we do so much bet­ter than Edinburgh, Bradford or Birmingham (all also zeros). It’s also worth not­ing the staff stu­dent ratio which is so inad­equate in Archaeology at Kent (1/6) scores (6/6) in clas­sics. This is the same depart­ment as Archaeology and Classics are com­bined at Kent. I can see that vary­ing intakes might lead to dif­fer­ing scores, but that much dif­fer­ence? It makes no sense.

Job pro­spects is also rated out of ten. Leicester at eight in Archaeology matches Oxford. In Classics Queen’s Belfast out­strips all of Loxbridge. Nuff said.

Value added score meas­ures uplift. The con­ver­sion of poor A-levels into a good degree. Oxford and Cambridge only take straight A stu­dents and they score five in archae­ology. Leicester takes stu­dents from access courses and some are way bet­ter than me. Leicester scores 3. Entry score is a fig­ure which would con­tra­dict this. It simply meas­ures the offers given to new stu­dents. A uni­ver­sity ask­ing for BBB is auto­mat­ic­ally a bit bet­ter than one offer­ing CCC. I’ve no idea what a two year access course counts as.

Finally there’s inclus­ive­ness. “Inclusiveness: How well do they recruit eth­nic, dis­abled and mature stu­dents?” Cambridge scores five in both Classics and Archaeology, Oxford only scores three in Classics, but five in Archaeology. Leicester scores three. I’ll be hon­est I think Leicester has an access prob­lem. Like any other depart­ment in Archaeology or Classics the stu­dent body is over­whelm­ingly white. But is Leicester worse than Cambridge or Oxford? With the excep­tion of Nottingham, which decided English was a valid A level, but Welsh wasn’t (scor­ing four for inclus­ive­ness in both sub­jects), I can’t think of any uni­ver­sity that act­ively puts up bar­ri­ers. In Leicester’s case we have a large intake of mature stu­dents from access courses and A-levels and part-time degrees which Oxbridge lack.

The tables bother me, because while I don’t have to take them ser­i­ously other people may and that has knock-on effects for me. They’re not merely a ques­tion of inter­pret­a­tion, the pos­i­tion of Kent below Glamorgan in Archaeology con­clus­ively shows they’re broken. If Archaeology was sur­veyed so badly I see no reason to assume the Classics, or indeed any other sub­ject res­ults, are any better.

Incidentally in the TQA, the offi­cial assess­ment of teach­ing qual­ity Leicester came out on top with 24/24.


When he's not tired, ill or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.

2 Responses

  1. Athena says:

    I’m SO glad you pos­ted this, I’ve been dying for a rant on this non­sense. I am not fond of league tables tho I am pleased that we beat the Other Place again. Better still, Manchester gave them a ham­mer­ing, that kind of provides tem­por­ary amusement:)

    In gen­eral I don’t pay atten­tion to tables. One should choose a uni for what it offers, so while UCL offers excel­lent archae­ology and I’d have been very happy there, Cambridge offers cer­tain staff mem­bers that are more of value to me. The Other Place is appar­ently good if you’re inter­ested in British Archy and offers place­ments etc but is utterly defunct on any­thing else. Last year, The Man was accep­ted at UCL, Other Place and Reading and chose UCL because they are the abso­lute tops for African Archaeology. None of us bothered look­ing at league tables.

    One minor cor­rec­tion: In Cambridge Classics is its own sep­ar­ate thing and not part of the archae­ology depart­ment. The Classics folks are their own depart­ment at the Sidgwick Site, along with Oriental Studies (which includes some archae­ology and philo­logy and what’s left of the Egyptology). Aegean archae­ology falls under clas­sics (don’t even get me star­ted on this one), whereas most of Mesopotamian archae­ology falls under Oriental Studies.

    I’m not sure how things work out in Leicester but I couldn’t give a toss what tables say about it as without excep­tion, former stu­dents and staff have noth­ing but praise for Leicester archy (plus the new Disney Professor here is from Leicester. I am pretty sure Barker will have plenty to say on the tables). Leicester must also be one of the rare unis that offer good cor­res­pond­ence courses in archy. Was this even taken into account?

    Re staff/student ratio: the under­grad classes never have more than 30 little ones at a time over here, and there’s only a hand­ful of MPhils. I don’t see what the fuss is about and I am stunned that UCL, with its army of staff has scored a zero. I mean hel­loooo they must have the biggest dept in the UK!

    Re inclus­ive­ness, I will try hard to bite my tongue on this as most of this is a lot of crock. Everyone should be judged on merit, not race etc. So yes, advert­ize your course to every­one but for cry­ing out loud let’s not start this whole polit­ic­ally cor­rect non­sense. And any­way how do we meas­ure an eth­nic minor­ity? If we were to be punc­til­li­ous about it, I should have gained the depart­ment points because I am only the second Maltese in archae­ology at Cambridge (and my good friend is the first one in Classics) and there’s only about 8 of us doing the rounds in Cambridge. So… go on you at the Guardian, give us more points ‘cos I’m a minor­ity. And I’m female, 10 extra points for that ok?

    Do these tables affect fund­ing? Like you, I am happy not to take them ser­i­ously, but are they linked to the dreaded RAEs?


  2. Alun says:

    Do these tables affect funding?

    Indirectly for some uni­ver­sit­ies. They can be used by par­ents look­ing for a good depart­ment so for some uni­ver­sit­ies they have a knock-on effect in attract­ing new stu­dents. I doubt that any­one will apply to Manchester rather than Oxford as a res­ult of the tables, but they might apply to Manchester rather than Nottingham. For uni­ver­sit­ies out­side the Golden Triangle stu­dent num­bers are more of an issue.

    I think the biggest effect the tables will have is it’ll lead to admin­strat­ors giv­ing some depart­ments head­aches “Why are you scor­ing so badly in inclus­ive­ness?” etc. due to the Guardian’s poor methodology.