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.