The Best Universities in the UK

Happy students


It’s that time of year again. Universities around the world are a constantly flowing conveyor belt of students, and the start of the new academic year means that the next batch of budding freshers have just embarked upon their three, sometimes four, and in other cases five year Undergraduate degrees. It’s also an exciting time for those who are a year behind the latest intake of students, whether they’re still studying at college or school, or perhaps even swanning around Bali enjoying their gap year.


Whichever category you fall into, it’s important that you take careful consideration when it comes to choosing which academic institution to study at. After all, you’re going to be there for the next few years at least. Your chosen degree and university will likely shape the career path that you venture down in the future, so it helps to get it right the first time around.


Some of you may already have your brain tuned into university mode, attending open days and viewing various types of accommodation that will no doubt be host to many a party throughout the first year. If so, kudos to you! If not, buck your ideas up because the UCAS deadline is 15th January 2019. Luckily for you, if you’re pondering over which universities to apply to then be sure to carry on reading this guide on the top universities in the UK.



University of Oxford vs University of Cambridge


University of Oxford


It comes as little or no surprise that the first and second places on the league tables are reserved for Oxford and Cambridge. They are the oldest and arguably the most prestigious universities in the UK, having existed since 1096 and 1209 respectively. Once a rite of passage for Etonians (Eton College students) before entering into the world of politics, science, and writing, the two universities have seen a significant rise in the number of state school educated attendees in recent years. In 2016, Oxford offered 59.2% of places to state school children, which is the highest it has been for decades. Also, in 2017 it was recorded that the level of state school entrants at Cambridge had risen to 61.9%.


Despite changes in students’ educational backgrounds, what largely remains the same is Oxbridge’s undying rivalry. A phenomenon that dates back many centuries, it is often thought that the bitter rivalry stemmed from the fact that they were once the only two universities in England and Wales. It is obviously much less intense now that there are an abundance of other universities to choose from.


University of Cambridge


But which one is better? That has also been a long standing debate, so we turn to some reputable sources for answers. The Guardian University League Tables 2019 rank Cambridge as number one with an overall Guardian score of 100. They place Oxford in second with a score of 97.4. Despite more students at Oxford being satisfied with their course and the level of teaching, the satisfaction of feedback and percentage of students being employed at graduate-level or in further study within six months of graduation is higher at Cambridge. This would suggest that Cambridge is marginally better in terms of employability and helping students improve their work.


In addition to the aforementioned, Cambridge allows you to combine any of the biological and physical sciences, or you can choose to specialise in an area of your own interest. This is as opposed to Oxford, who only offer single-subject science courses. That said, as of 6th June 2018 Top Universities ranked Oxford as number one stating they are ranked 5th in the world and operate the largest university press around the globe.


The University of Warwick



Also featuring in the Top Universities list is the University of Warwick. Proud to be bold and imaginative, this institution was ranked 7th among UK research universities by the 2014 Research Excellence Framework. And with over 26,500 students flocking from over 150 countries worldwide, it is clear to see why this Coventry based Russell Group university is so popular.


One of the younger members of the association, it is ranked 8th by The Guardian league tables. The latest figures show that 80% of students were in graduate-level employment or further study within 6 months of graduation, showing a high level of employability. Warwick also has a value added score of 5.8 out of 10. This metric compares students’ degree results with their qualifications upon enrolling at university, showing how effectively they were taught. At 5.8, Warwick is on par with Cambridge and ranks higher than Imperial College London, who scored a value of 5.7 even though they were placed one rank higher in the league.


Taking into account the university’s overall score of 80.9 by The Guardian, the medium value added score would suggest that Warwick accepts students with good entry-level grades and produces graduates with good degree results; maintaining a high quality academic stance.



The University of Manchester


University of Manchester


Rather surprisingly, The Guardian has ranked the next Russell Group university that we are going to discuss today in 34th place. Wow, who upset the editor? This red brick university, which is known as one of the top research institutions in the UK, was given an overall score of 69. Thus placing it behind Liverpool Hope University, which isn’t a member of the Russell Group nor is it a red brick.


This comparatively low score to previous universities makes us question why this is the case? 82% of students embark upon their career within the 6 month graduation window. And with an average entry tariff of 167, which is based upon the UCAS scores of young entrants aged below 21, it is much higher than a number of its successors in the league tables. Essex, Portsmouth, and Lincoln, to name a few.


In contrast, The Complete University Guide, which appears to be much more generous, places Manchester in 18th place in their league tables. Having moved up four ranks since the 2018 tables were published, the university has been credited for its high entry standards with a mark of 169, which is again based on UCAS tariffs. This website states Manchester is always within the top 30 in the league and is the largest single-site university in the UK. Not only that, but the institution is well-known for the opportunities it provides to students in terms of studying abroad and undertaking industry placements.






University of St Andrews


University of St Andrews


In terms of course satisfaction it doesn’t get much better than St Andrews, according to The Guardian. With an overall score of 97.2 (0.2 less than Oxford), Scotland’s oldest university was founded in 1413, and is the first non Russell Group university to be discussed today. That said, the league table figures highlight St Andrews as an academic personification of the fact that one needn’t attend an elite university to do well in life.


In fact, with a course satisfaction of 93% it is the highest score of any university in the 2019 league. Pair that impressive statistic with the fact that 97% of first year students continue into the second year of study, and you more or less have an all round glowing report.


A cross examination between The Guardian and The Complete University Guide shows that the latter relegated St Andrews to 5th in the ranks, having dropped 2 places and being replaced by the London School of Economics. This seems rather odd given that LSE has the lowest student satisfaction rate at 3.71/5, whereas St Andrews has the second highest in the league at 4.32/5. One supposes that the re ranking of these two universities could be due to the slightly higher scores that LSE has gained in terms of research quality (3.35) and grade prospects (87.1).


However, when all is said and done, St Andrews prides itself in bringing together researchers from around the globe to explore and challenge the world around them. Additionally, students have the opportunity to be flexible with their degrees based on subject specialism or research.



Loughborough University


Loughborough University


The last university that we’re taking a look at today is Loughborough, which is ranked 4th in The Guardian league tables and 7th by The Complete University Guide. This is a much smaller dispute than that surrounding the University of Manchester, with the former league table boosting Loughborough by 2 positions, and the latter having boosted the university by three ranks for the 2019 tables. This suggests that there were perhaps slightly lower opinions of this institution previously, but have now made improvements which has been reflected in their rankings.


The Guardian’s overall score of 87.9 likely stems from its extremely high course satisfaction of 90%, trumping Cambridge by 1%. I think beating Cambridge on anything, no matter how miniscule, is an achievement in itself. Additionally, 89% teaching satisfaction appears to boast high quality lecturers, and a continuation rate of 96% supports these figures.


In comparison to the other universities mentioned today, Loughborough has the lowest research quality at 2.95/4, which perhaps highlights their difference in status to the likes of Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick, and Manchester. Loughborough was in fact a member of the now dissolved 1994 Group, that formed a coalition of smaller research-intensive universities which aimed to protect their interests following the establishment of the Russell Group. That said, the university still has a very high grade potential of 82.2%, suggesting it is a high quality institution for its students.


This analysis is based upon freely available data from university league tables, and comes to you as part of Hopewiser’s ‘Best and Worst’ series. Whilst we have explored a select few of high performing universities throughout the UK, there are by far many more for you to choose from. We hope that you have found this article of some use, whether you’re looking to apply to university for next year, or perhaps you’re even a parent who’s curious as to what options are out there. In a nutshell, the list is endless.


Here at Hopewiser, we have employed many university graduates over the years, and we want to help make sure you get off to the right start. Our free and easy to use app, Proximity, enables you to find all your nearest educational, healthcare, and transport facilities, plus much more. It is a must-have app for any university student trying to navigate around a city that isn’t their own. For your free download, head over to the App Store or Google Play today.


From all of us here at Hopewiser, we wish you all the luck in the world with your studies!