Domestic league tables in the UK don’t capture the quality and accessible higher education Birkbeck provides to non-traditional students, says David Latchman.
Since the turn of the millennium, we have been told that league tables differentiate the good universities from the bad. They help students choose the best, the theory goes, and make those underachieving places buck up their ideas. In a world where higher education is increasingly marketised and where undergraduate courses cost up to £9,250 a year for domestic students and more for those from overseas, this is all-important. But what do these tables really tell us, and do they even reflect the best features of vastly different institutions?
Some more obviously measure important points than others. Take football, for example. A table that ranks teams for the most wins and differentiates between goals scored and conceded makes perfect sense. So in university terms, you might naturally expect that excellent research and teaching would automatically propel an institution to the upper reaches.
That a place also gives a lifeline to those hard-to-reach students who may otherwise miss the chance of a degree, as well as championing diversity, surely must up its position. And that it breaks the mould by enabling people to work and study simultaneously, to ease their long-term financial burden, must have the potential for a place in Europe next season?
Well, unfortunately many university league tables aren’t like that. Many of their metrics relate to inputs – entry qualifications, spend on student facilities – rather than outcomes. Imagine if, instead of reflecting performance on the pitch, the Premiership was decided by the transfer price of the players, the cost of the stadium and the amount that fans spent on tickets and merchandise.
For a bit of background, Birkbeck is a unique institution with a history of extending higher education stretching back almost 200 years. We have stayed true to our original mission to enable working people to study and have embraced people who may never have dreamed that they could study for a degree.
The majority of our undergraduates are over 21. And of those studying full-time for a first degree, 75 per cent have what are considered low-tariff qualifications, while a quarter of our 5,000 part-time undergrads have nothing more than GCSEs before coming to Birkbeck. Yet they are still capable of meeting the academic demands to emerge with a prestigious University of London degree. More than a third of our undergraduate entrants come from low-income households and qualify for our financial support package.

Read more : THE : David Latchman, Master, Birkbeck, University of London