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The United Kingdom benefits from an impressive range of universities throughout the country and the standard of higher education at these institutions is generally considered to be the best in the world. From the well-known Oxford and Cambridge and the Russell Group of Universities (an elite association of 24 leading British universities) to smaller, emerging colleges, there are over 150 higher education institutions in the UK and it is this great variety that can both be an opportunity as well as a challenge when deciding where to study after A-levels.

British universities and colleges are hugely diverse in their nature; there are those on large campuses and others that are spread out around a city; academies focused on one specific area of study or school systems to offer students the chance to learn multiple subjects; places with good reputations for sports and activities; and institutions that pride themselves on alternative methods of teaching. There are historic universities, specialist institutions, centres of technological excellence, modern innovative facilities and progressive research centres that are dotted all over the country.

The incredible diversity here in the UK, combined with the countless course and study options available, means that students can tailor a truly unique experience when it comes to their higher education. A student’s choice in university will affect their life both professionally and socially so it is important to take the time to make the right decision.

While certain British universities have better reputations than others, it is worth noting that they may not always be the most appropriate place for a student wishing to further their studies and personal development. It is common practice to look at the league tables to see how each institution is rated on results, quality of teaching and graduate employability but do remember that there are other factors to take into account such as innovation, creativity, activities, amenities, gender ratios and overall student satisfaction.

“It is hard for any university ranking to capture the full student experience that an institution provides. Applicants should look beyond league tables to pick the course that is right for them.”
– Sarah Stevens, head of policy at the Russell Group

It is also increasingly important not to be misled by the associated label given to these institutions. For example, Liverpool Hope University now ranks better than its Russell Group neighbour, the University of Liverpool, having climbed to 56th place, from 104 two years ago. Its recent success has been driven by many things but notably by the improvements made across its biosciences, business, and social policy departments.

When choosing a university, students must first research what the best places are for the specific course they want to study. The subject rankings vary massively from the overall university ranking and it is vital to ensure that students are aware of which locations offer the best education for their chosen field so that their learning experience will match up to their aspirations. The University of Stirling, whilst 54th in the current league table, is ranked 4th best in the UK for their Criminology course and are considered top for this subject area in the whole of Scotland. Heriot-Watt University, with campuses across the globe in the vibrant cities of Edinburgh, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, is the top institution in which to study Law, after Oxford and Cambridge, and may be closer to home for some international students. Stirling and Heriot-Watt are not part of the Russell Group of Universities proving that students must look into their most appropriate options by course subject and not be solely influenced by their label.

Further to the differences in overall university and subject rankings, the league tables do not advertise some significant honours awarded to institutions so, again, it is encouraged to look beyond these to realise there are probably many more benefits when enrolling to a particular place. In June 2017, the University of Nottingham was granted a gold rating in recognition of their standard of teaching and level of support they provide their students. As part of a Government-led exercise to measure the quality of the undergraduate experience so that students can make an informed choice when choosing where to study, a panel of higher education experts, the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), praised Nottingham for delivering “the highest quality of teaching in the UK”. This award comes at the same time as the university revealed a £200m research and development programme to solve six global challenges, including securing sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery and developing greener transport systems, and involves a recruitment drive to employ 100 of the brightest young academic talents from its own student body and further afield. Again, not something that the league tables will reflect but could be extremely meaningful to someone applying here.

At CTC, we pride ourselves on our excellent results and long-standing consistency in placing our students at Britain’s best universities (in 2016, 75% of our graduates went on to Russell Group universities) but we are extremely careful when guiding young adults in making one of the biggest decisions of their lives. We take everything, from personalities to career ambitions, into account in order to make the most appropriate choice for the next chapter and we hope you will too.

There are lots of resources available through CTC or via external sources to gain the necessary information to make an informed decision. Beyond talking to our resident experts, a good place to start is Unistats, the official website for comparing UK higher education course data, where you can select and compare subjects, methods of study, teaching outcomes and location to help you learn more about the courses on offer.

For more detail or to seek advice, please do not hesitate in contacting our Admissions team at admissions@ctc.ac.uk . We have years of experience in this important process and we’d be delighted to help.