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Architecture schools slam ranking errors

Heads of architecture schools have hit out at ‘flawed’ and ‘inconsistent’ university league tables being presented to parents and students as ‘indisputable fact’

The rankings, such as the Independent’s Complete University Guide and the Guardian’s University Guide 2012, have been criticised for missing data and for the currency of their information.

Kevin Singh, Head of Birmingham School of Architecture, is concerned about the tables’ potential influence given that schools will charge up to £9,000 in tuition fees from September 2012.

He said: ‘Due to increased fees the tables will be an even greater factor [in students’ decision-making processes]. Unfortunately at present, unlike in football, the tables are misleading. The fact that a school can appear in completely different places in different tables tells its own story.

‘We have a very high research profile, yet one table showed no data for us in this area, thus completely undermining our score and position.’

Birmingham is now working on a research project to see to what extent applicants are influenced by league tables, all of which are partly based on the National Student Survey and which also appear in the Sunday Times and The Times.

André Brown, head of the School of Architecture at the University of Liverpool, agreed: ‘If we compiled tables that used questionable data collected from various sources and over different years, we would be criticised for poor research methods.’

However, following the tuition-fee increase, universities will have to disclose standard sets of data, including contact hours, curriculum information and employment rates – although Brown is unsure ‘how this will work out in practice’.

Alan Penn, dean of the UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment, is also sceptical about the tables, despite his school regularly topping them.

He added: ‘Since the introduction of higher fees, choosing a university is no longer matter for a lazy afternoon over the Sunday newspaper league tables - it requires serious consideration and homework.

‘Any prospective student would be better off visiting the end of year show and talking to current students, looking at their work and deciding what looks interesting. Next they should look at the staff and see what design work they are doing. They should look at the employment statistics - who is working where from last year’s cohort. These kind of questions will become increasingly important.’

A University of Greenwich spokesperson said: ‘These sorts of tables vary a lot from year to year, and from table to table so, although it’s always lovely to win a high ranking, our main goal is to ensure that we provide a high quality architecture course.’

A Guardian News & Media spokesperson said: ‘The Guardian’s University Guide uses official data, the most recent available, so it’s not fair to say the data is flawed or questionable. We have a review group from a cross-section of universities who advise us on the methodology, and we take their comments very seriously.’

Student comment

Charlie Kentish, graduate of Birmingham school of architecture [ranked 24th in the Guardian 2012 table]: ‘For many, these league tables are the first point of reference in deciding which university to choose. For me they were the only indication of which university is good and which is not. In my experience, the league tables over the past two years were definitely not a true reflection of how successfully Birmingham School of Architecture helped develop my understanding of and passion for architecture, while also preparing me for professional practice.’

Sean Kitchen, architecture student at Lincoln [ranked 22nd in the Guardian 2012 table]: ‘When a student gets into a university they learn about how to rate other schools, such as by looking at the number of RIBA President’s Medals, but prospective students and their parents haven’t that knowledge. For parents these tables are huge - I remember my whole family pouring over the tables and demanding I consider other universities.’

 

 

Readers' comments (1)

  • The most telling factor of these tables seems to be a completely arbitrary 'value-added score'. although some schools outscore on all other criteria, they end up far down the list, due to this factor, which seems to have no empirical basis. It completely skews the listings, so that schools which outscore others in all other criteria appear to be less successful. It is also telling that the best school in the land isn't even on the list.

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