NI universities slip in new UK rankings

Queen's University, Belfast.
Queen's University, Belfast.

Queen’s University Belfast is the top-ranked university in Northern Ireland in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018, despite the university falling 12 places in the overall league table this year to 38.

It has been a tough year for both Queen's University and Ulster University, with Ulster falling five places to finish 73 in the national league table.

Ulster University, Magee.

Ulster University, Magee.

The new edition of The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 is published over three days, beginning with a free 96-page supplement published this weekend in The Sunday Times (September 24).

It provides the definitive rankings for UK universities and the most comprehensive overview of higher education in Britain. It includes profiles on 131 universities and the definitive UK university rankings, making use of the latest data published in the past two months.

A fully searchable website with university profiles and 67 subject tables will be published at www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/gooduniversityguide on Sunday for subscribers to The Times and The Sunday Times.

The return of Queen’s last year into The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide’s top 30 proved to be short-lived, with the university unable to maintain the exceptional level of satisfaction with student experience that it demonstrated in the 2016 National Student Survey.

Overall, it fell to equal 43rd in the UK rankings for student experience and equal 70th for teaching quality.

It continues, however, to excel in research, being named in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide’s top 15 for research after entering 95% of its academics for the most recent Research Excellence Framework, a proportion only matched by Cambridge.

Of the research entered, 77% of the research was considered world-leading or internationally excellent. The university has since won a Queen’s Anniversary prize for research and technology transfer in cyber security, and has been awarded Northern Ireland’s first Regius professorship in electronics and computer engineering.

Queen’s was also the first institution to meet the national target of at least one computer workstation for every five undergraduate students.

Almost 100 of the university’s buildings are listed, and they have been complemented by recent development. Over the past decade, it has invested £350m in campus development and it intends to spend the same again over the next 10 years.

A computer science lab to support expansion in the subject, a £20m School of Law building, and the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine have all opened in the past year. The £39m school of biological sciences and city-centre accommodation for 1,200 students is scheduled to follow in 2018.

Applications and enrolments at Queen’s have been running at record levels for the past four years. Uncertainty over fee levels, with no devolved government in place for Northern Ireland, has not helped this year’s recruitment, although its two per cent decline in applications was half the UK average.

Ulster saw a rise in both applications and enrolments last year, but this is likely to come to at least a temporary halt this year after the closure of the modern languages department and the withdrawal of a number of other courses. The university previously said that it expected to shed 1,200 places over three years to cope with cuts.

New degrees have, however, been launched this autumn in football coaching and business management, and ceramics, jewellery and silver-smithing. The coaching degree is a partnership with the Irish Football Association and will be delivered partly at the national stadium at Windsor Park, Belfast. Ulster also hopes to open a medical school.

Despite falling five places in this year’s The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide league table, there have been improvements in Ulster’s entry standards, completion rates and the proportion of students achieving either a first or 2:1. These improvements were, however, outweighed by declines, including falls in student satisfaction with their broad student experience and the quality of the teaching they receive.

Neither of the universities in Northern Ireland entered the government’s new Teaching Excellence Framework, but Ulster features in the Times Higher Education magazine’s top 150 universities in the world that are less than 50 years old. It has strong business links and the university is ranked in the top seven in the UK for the volume of knowledge transfer it undertakes.

The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 published on September 24 provides students and their parents with an invaluable first reference point on the path to finding a university place. It contains full profiles of all universities.

The league table is made up of nine indicators including student satisfaction with teaching quality and their wider student experience, research quality, graduate prospects, entrance qualifications held by new students, degree results achieved, student/staff ratios, service and facilities spend, and degree completion rates.

The Times will complement coverage in The Sunday Times with two further supplements to be published on Monday and Tuesday, September 25 and 26. These will focus on the best universities for teaching quality and student experience and the universities that come top in different subject areas.

Expanded coverage with 67 subject tables and full interactive tables on all the league table components, and additional features are available to Times and Sunday Times subscribers at thesundaytimes.co.uk/gooduniversityguide. Non-subscribers can gain complimentary access to two articles a week when they enter an email address and register.