League-Tables-Uni

UNIVERSITY SUBJECT LEAGUE TABLES DRAMATICALLY INFLUENCE STUDENT APPLICATION NUMBERS

An university department with an improved position in subject league tables can see a rise in student applications worth over £100,000 a year, according to research by Xiaoxuan Jia, presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2013 annual conference. Departments moving into the very top ranks see even bigger increases.

The research looks at the university subject league tables published in the Guardian newspaper and compares these with data on applications from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) between 2004 and 2011. It finds that:

  • An improvement in league table performance for an academic department (a quality score change of one standard deviation) will trigger a roughly 5% rise in applications.
  • Most of the changes in applications come from overseas applicants whose application numbers go up by around 11%.
  • A 5% increase in applications represents a change of around 69 applications. Given the current level of tuition fees at £9,000, and the proportion of accepted applications at 20%, this loosely translates into a maximum change of around £124,000 in income for each department.
  • The impact of the subject-level quality scores has grown stronger over time, particularly since the 2006 increase in tuition fees and changes in the application process introduced in 2008, when the number of choices allowed per candidate was reduced.
  • Business and Law degree applicants react twice as strongly to changes in league table scores compared with applicants for other subjects.
  • The impact of the Guardian score is also stronger for the top ranked departments. Departments moving into the top 10% of the score distribution see their application numbers increase by 6 percentage points on average.

To decide where to apply, prospective students require information on the quality of different university degree programmes on offer. Rising tuition fees mean they now have to think twice before making their choice. University subject league tables, as provided by a number of media, are the most commonly accepted source of this type of information.

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Does the performance of academic departments in league tables affect the number of applications they receive? Using data on application numbers to undergraduate degrees, this study finds an improvement (quality scores change by one standard deviation) in league table performance for a department will trigger a 4.8% increase approximately in the number of applications received.

To decide where to apply, prospective students require information on the quality of different university degree programmes on offer. Rising tuition fees mean that they now have to think twice before making their choice. University subject league tables, as provided by a number of media, are the most commonly accepted source of this type of information.

Using the Guardian university subject league tables and data on applications from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) for the period of 2004-2011, the research finds the impact of the subject-level quality scores has grown stronger over this period, particularly after the 2006 increase in tuition fees and changes in the application process introduced in 2008, when the number of choices allowed per candidate was reduced.

There are also small differences in the reaction to quality score changes among applicants for different subjects. Business and Law degrees applicants react twice as strongly to changes in league table scores.

Most of the changes in applications originate from overseas applicants whose application numbers go up by an additional 5.6 percentage points compared with British students following an improvement in scores.

The impact of the Guardian score is also stronger for the top ranked departments. Departments moving into the top decile of the score distribution see their application numbers increase by 6 percentage points on average.

A 4.8% increase in applications in the dataset represents a change of around 69 applications. Given the current level of tuition fees at £9,000, and the proportion of accepted applications at 20%, this loosely translates into a maximum of around £124,000 change in universities’ income for each department.

ENDS


Contact:

Xiaoxuan Jia, +44 (0) 7809 573918 (jessie.jia.2009@live.rhul.ac.uk)

RES media consultant Romesh Vaitilingam:
+44 (0) 7768 661095
romesh@vaitilingam.com
@econromesh

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