Covid-19 leaves Oxbridge with a headache

For the first time, neither Oxford nor Cambridge occupies the top spot in a national league table of UK universities. And the pandemic is to blame.

St Andrews University
St Andrews was named the nation's top university - the first time one or other of the Oxbridge institutions has not topped the annual rankings in The Times/Sunday Times 'Good University Guide', which was first published almost 30 years ago.Cambridge fell from first place last year to No 2 this year, while Oxford slipped from 2020 runner-up to third.

Why did St Andrews top the 'Good University Guide' list?

A year of closed campuses and the shift to online lessons because of the pandemic have led to a dramatic fall in student satisfaction and teaching quality results at the majority of UK universities.But the new rankings said that, because St Andrews effectively switched its small-class teaching model to online delivery, it saw only a small decline in satisfaction rates.Alastair McCall, editor of the Good University Guide, said: “St Andrews’ achievement in topping our institutional table should not be underestimated.“Never before has any university other than Cambridge and Oxford finished top the domestic ranking of universities.“It is no fluke. The university has been closing in on the Oxbridge duopoly for several years, buoyed by outstanding levels of student satisfaction, which have peaked during the past year of pandemic disruption on campus.“Strange to say for an institution that has been around for 600 years, but topping our UK rankings for the first time truly marks St Andrews' arrival as a serious challenger to Oxford and Cambridge.”Prof Sally Mapstone, principal and vice-chancellor of St Andrews, said the university was bound to enjoy its elevation to first place in the rankings.
She added: "“We have been in very good company close to the top of this important league table for several years but, until now, always on someone’s shoulder.“I hope the fact that the staff and students of a small, Scottish institution have been able to break through the hitherto impenetrable Oxbridge ceiling will inspire others and show that the status quo is only that if you allow it to be.”

Imperial College London: University of the Year for student satisfaction

Out of 132 institutions on the list, only two – Imperial College London and the University of Surrey – succeeded in increasing their results from the annual national student survey (NSS) amid the pandemic.In light of this success despite campus closures, Imperial was named University of the Year for student satisfaction. It also overtook the London School of Economics and Political Science to become the top university in London, being ranked nationally in fourth place, one ranking ahead of the LSE.“Imperial College showed the university sector how to deliver higher education for undergraduates in lockdown," said Mr McCall.“No-one did it better, a fact reflected in this year’s national student survey, where Imperial improved its scores for student satisfaction during a year that took a heavy toll on those scores elsewhere.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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