Oxford University today tops the Guardian's university league table for the sixth year running, with arch-rival Cambridge holding onto second place.
The Guardian University Guide 2011: What to study, where to go, how to get thereThe Guardian,£14.99Buy this bookWarwick comes third and St Andrews fourth – the pair have switched positions from last year. University College London, Lancaster, Imperial College, London School of Economics, Loughborough and York are in the top 10. London Metropolitan has come last.
The tables, published in full on our website today, rank universities according to the following measures: how satisfied their final-year students are; how much they spend per student; the student/staff ratio; the career prospects of their graduates; a value-added score and what grades pupils have to achieve to stand a chance of being offered a place.
The tables provide vital information for the more than 600,000 university applicants who this year face the toughest ever competition for places.
Britain's oldest universities still dominate the high rankings, although several have dropped many places from last year. The University of Manchester, which was formed in 2004 from two universities that were established in the 19th Century, has fallen to 51st place out of 118, from 32nd last year. Edinburgh has gone down to 15th place from seventh last year and Bristol has fallen to 33rd from 29th last year.
Some universities founded in the 1960s, however, appear to be on the rise. Lancaster has climbed from 16th to sixth this year, the University of East Anglia has risen from 35th to 19th and York has gone from 11th to joint ninth place with Loughborough.
Every year, final-year students score their universities according to how satisfied they have been with their courses, as part of the National Student Survey. The tables, compiled by independent consultancy firm Intelligent Metrix, heavily weight the results of this survey when compiling the rankings. Other league tables concentrate on research ratings.
The tables reveal that Kingston has fallen the highest number of places from last year – from 73rd to 98th, but Huddersfield is the biggest climber, having risen from 96th last year to 54th this year. Hertfordshire has also shot up, from 97th place to 60th.
There are separate tables to show which universities are best – and worst – for particular subjects. Oxford comes top for medicine, maths, modern languages, law, politics, economics and English. University College London is the best for psychology and art and design. For business studies and management, Warwick is top.
The more a university spends per student, the more satisfied its students are, it seems, and the higher it is ranked in our tables. However, to make this fair, our judges took into account the fact that universities that do not teach expensive courses such as engineering will spend less on each student. Oxford came top with a rating of 10 out of 10 for expenditure per student, while Cambridge and Edinburgh achieved more than nine out of 10. However, Queen Margaret and Edinburgh Napier universities overcome low spending per student to take places 63 and 55 in the tables. University College Plymouth St Mark and St John came last with just over two out of 10.
Imperial College London came out top for career prospects with 86% of students going on to a graduate-level job or full-time further study within six months of graduation, while Robert Gordon University came second with 82%. Oxford, Bath and Cambridge came next with 80%, 79% and 78% respectively. London Metropolitan came last with 40%. On average, 63% of students went on to graduate jobs or full-time further study.
Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group of large, research-intensive universities, said maintaining high rankings would be "challenging" because universities face "growing cost pressures and fierce competition from better resourced institutions in other countries". She said: "The future funding and sustainability of our leading universities now needs to be addressed urgently if the high quality learning experience is to be protected for the long-term. We do continue to have reservations about the use of league tables and the breadth of indicators included. Ranking universities on a limited number of criteria can be misleading for potential students."
Aaron Porter, president-elect of the National Union of Students, said universities should be more open and accountable about where their funding is coming from and how it is used. He said: "Students have a right to expect a higher quality of education and improvements to their experience. They should also increasingly demonstrate to prospective students what they can expect from their experience and be more transparent about what they offer. Choosing a university and course involves consideration of a wide range of factors and information, which universities must provide in order that applicants can make well-informed choices."
The tables are based on data for full-time undergraduates at universities in the UK. Five universities - Liverpool Hope, Swansea Metropolitan, Wolverhampton, the University of the West of Scotland and University College Birmingham - declined to allow us to use their data. There is a separate table for specialist institutions.