Welcome to the conference league

Today The Guardian published its 2010 University League table which it bases on the national student satisfaction survey (assessment and teaching), staff student-ratio, spend per student, graduate employment, and “value added”. On this basis, which is highly focussed on the Student’s learning experience, Swansea comes way down in the “conference league”, 95th out of 117 places, with a season score of 48.1 points out of the maximum 100. If we were in the football league, we’d be fighting relegation!

Even worse, Swansea is bottom of all the Welsh Universities: well below Cardiff (44), UWIC (65), Aberystwyth (71), Bangor (72), Lampeter (78), Glamorgan (80) and Glyndwr (92) (the newest Universities Swansea Met. and Trinity Camarthen are not listed).

The “spin doctors” here will will be quick to point out that The Guardian doesn’t take into account research quality, which is true, but then I don’t believe the hype about research quality naturally leading to better teaching. Even the gold-star department Civil Engineering only manages 10th place out of twenty in the subject specific tables (it rates itself in the top 3 based on RAE results).

I blame the RAE and the University’s strategy to muscle its way into the “premier division” by buying in outside talent. To stretch the Football Association metaphor further, it feels like that the manager has bought a lot of expensive strikers but neglected his midfield and defence!

The student experience needn’t take second place. The Guardian’s premier division institutions would be in similar positions in any league table that factored in research. So clearly there are research active institutions that are also excellent teaching institutions. I just feel, and this is of course my personal opinion, that Swansea has taken its eye off the ball. Maybe this result will act as a wake up call.

Author: cpjobling

Senior lecturer, College of Engineering, Swansea University