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Commissioner for Fair Access Discussion Paper: League Tables

Commissioner for Fair Access Discussion Paper: League Tables

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

ISBN: 9781788514088

One of a number of discussion papers published by the Commissioner for Fair Access, this paper considers the nature of league tables and university rankings and their relationship to fair access

Executive Summary

The discussion paper provides examples of current league tables and the methodology and criteria they employ to rank institutions, before discussing concerns about the underlying data. It then details six issues that have been raised within the sector about the value and impact of league tables: institutions are judged on the same narrow criteria; this can result in them altering their missions; social mobility is not currently reputational, hierarchies judge quality as relational; there is evidence of ‘gaming’ the system and existing reputations are often reinforced.

Within the commentary section, the Commissioner notes the strong impact league tables have on institutional behaviour. In relation to fair access, two problems with league tables are noted:

1. The one size fits all approach does not take into the account the different challenges HEIs face in widening access and improving access requires collaborative efforts between institutions.

2. It has proven difficult to devise an effective measure to account for fair access activity within league tables.

The Commissioner states that league tables are ‘here to stay’ and that further effort is required to devise proxy measures of fair access such as learning gain or value added. He concludes by suggesting that a ‘Fair Access’ league table should be created by the sector to stimulate institutional effort in this arena.