Understanding university ratings and rankings
Help and advice
If you're thinking about applying for university, the first challenge is deciding what degree to study and where.
A good place to start is with university rankings and ratings. Students regularly give feedback about their university experiences in various surveys and the results are published every year. There are also lots of university guides and league tables.
You can tap into all this information to help you compare courses, choose the best university for you and find out about your prospects after you graduate.
But which surveys should you pay attention to? What do the stats mean? And how can they help you decide where and what to study?
Let's take a look at your key information sources.
National Student Survey (NSS)
If you want to start an undergraduate degree (such as a BSc or BA), the National Student Survey (NSS) results show you whether other students enjoy the university and the course you're interested in.
The NSS is conducted annually by Ipsos-MORI on behalf of the Office for Students (OfS). It's one of the largest student surveys in the world. Published every September, it’s an independent survey of nearly half a million final year students in higher and further education across the UK.
Understanding the NSS results
The NSS results are published as percentages – each course gets a score, and the university gets an overall score.
For instance, a course might get a student satisfaction score of 82%, meaning students who took the course rated it pretty highly. If the university's overall score is higher, it broadly means that most students had a better time at the university than on that specific course.
The reliability and value of student feedback surveys are a subject of regular discussion in the higher education sector. The NSS is no exception to this, but it is extensive and has a consistently high response rate from students.
How we use NSS feedback
Universities use their NSS results to improve courses, facilities and student support. Following NSS feedback, we've:
- Introduced student-led welcome groups to help new students settle in, which the UK Government has recognised as a beacon of good practice
- Extended library opening to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week during term time
- Added 90 extra seats in the library
- Enhanced our consolidation weeks to give students more time for fieldwork, work-based learning or for catching up on coursework
- Invested £1.5 million a year in student IT equipment, including laptops, desktop computers and the latest software
We scored 86% for student satisfaction (above the national average of 82%) in the 2020 NSS. This was the 14th year we scored above the national average.
You can compare university and course NSS results on the Discover Uni website.
Teaching Excellence Framework
The Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) assesses universities on the quality of their teaching and how they prepare students for work or further study after graduating. NSS results contribute to TEF ratings.
We hold the highest possible TEF rating – Gold. We're one of only 4 universities in the south east with this rating. Our Gold award places us in the top 20% of higher education institutions that entered the Teaching Excellence Framework in 2017.
University guides and league tables
Generally, university guides and league tables present statistical information, and details of individual universities and courses. You can sort the information depending on what you're interested in. Each guide or league table has guidance on how to use their information.
Here are a few examples of league tables and some of their features.
Guardian University Guide
The Guardian University Guide is based on official data collected by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and NSS ratings. It shows what percentage of students have graduate-level jobs, or have gone on to further study, 6 months after graduation
The Guardian University Guide 2020 ranks us as the 21st best university in the UK.
The Complete University Guide
The Complete University Guide (CUG) is an independent publication. It gathers information from UK universities, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).
The Guide ranks 131 universities in the UK using entry standards, student satisfaction, research quality and graduate prospects, and uses the same criteria to rank universities in 70 course subject area. It also includes information on postgraduate study and courses.
We're 51st in the Complete University Guide 2019.
Times Higher Education World University Rankings
The Times Higher Education World University Rankings include almost 1,400 universities across 92 countries. It claims to be 'the largest and most diverse university rankings ever to date'.
Its overall rankings based on 5 areas:
- citations (research influence)
- international outlook
- industry income (knowledge transfer)
Rankings filtered by subject, teaching, region and 'impact', which assesses universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
QS World University Rankings
The QS World University Rankings covers 1,000 universities across the world. It ranks them according to academic and employer reputation, teacher to student ratio, research quality, international staff and student presence. You can filter the rankings by, for example, country and region, graduate employability, and best postgraduate business courses.
We are rated 5 stars for excellence in teaching and internationalisation by QS.
The Times Good University Guide
The Times Good University Guide includes profiles of all universities, including fees and accommodation costs. The results are displayed in interactive league tables and 67 subject tables. It also provides portraits of leading student cities.
We're 51st in the guide for 2019, rising 2 places since 2018.
Choosing a university and course is one thing, but it's also important to look ahead to your job prospects. If getting into your dream career and earning a good salary is important to you, it's useful to find out where graduates of your course are employed and how much they earn.
Graduate Outcomes replaced the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey. It finds out what students are doing 15 months after graduation, whereas DLHE looked at a 6-month period. Graduate Outcomes gives a more accurate picture of where graduates are in the longer term after finishing higher education.
The Discover Uni website provides information in its ‘After the course’ section on the types of jobs graduates move onto and their salaries. Discover Uni uses DLHE findings and will introduce Graduate Outcomes data in 2020.
The last DLHE survey in 2017 showed 97.5% of our graduates were in employment or further study six months after finishing their degree.
Postgraduate Research and Taught Experience Surveys
If you're thinking about studying at postgraduate level, take a look at the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) and the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES).
The PRES is an annual, nationwide survey of postgraduate research degree students, organised by Advance HE, which invites them to comment on their programme and experience. Previous surveys have included, for example, questions about how satisfied students are with:
- Their overall experience
- The opportunities provided to develop research skills
- Resource provision
- Teaching opportunities
- Progress assessment
The PTES is a biennial, nationwide survey, also run by Advance HE. Its questions are similar to the PRES questions and it's a chance for taught postgraduates to give feedback on their experiences.
Advance HE provides overall PRES and PTES reports. You should ask universities directly to request their individual data and feedback from these surveys. For the results of our postgraduate surveys, please contact our postgrad team.
Research Excellence Framework
The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is an independent review of research quality in the UK's higher education institutions. It can be a helpful indicator when you're thinking of doing a postgraduate research degree. And for those considering their first degree, a high quality research environment may well have a positive effect upon undergraduate course content.
In the Research Excellence Framework 2014, 78% of the University of Portsmouth's research impact was rated as world-leading or internationally excellent.
Your choice of postgraduate course and location may also be influenced by your wish to work with a particular research supervisor. Take a look at our Find a PhD Supervisor tool.
Narrowing down your options
Remember that these surveys are a snapshot. Use them as a guide to what your experience could be like at a particular university or on a specific course. It's a good sign if a university maintains consistently high ranking over several years.
There's a lot of information to consider, but taking the time to thoroughly research your options is definitely worthwhile. It gives you the best chance of making the right decision for you at this important time.
Explore our rankings to find out how we measure up in university league tables, student satisfaction, teaching, research, and more.
Use our course search to find the right undergraduate degree for you. Search by course title, award (e.g. BA or BSc), course type, mode of study, start date or subject area.