Smiling student outside of library

Surveys, rankings and league tables

Find out how universities are ranked and what our results mean for you

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.

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. 

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:

  • teaching
  • research
  • 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.

Graduate opportunities

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 is a national survey, for every student who has qualified at a UK university since 1 August 2017. The survey runs 4 times a year. It aims to find out what graduates with all types of qualification go on to do. 

Graduate Outcomes replaces the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey, which showed the percentage of graduates in work or further study 6 months after finishing their degree. The last DLHE survey was conducted in 2017. Instead of looking at what you’re up to 6 months after graduation, Graduate Outcomes finds out what graduates are doing after 15 months.

Graduate Outcomes data is displayed on our course pages where 90% or more of our students are in work or further study 15 months after graduation. The data is produced by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) licence.

The Discover Uni website provides Graduate Outcomes information in its ‘Employment 15 months after the course’ section on the types of jobs graduates move onto and their salaries.

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.

To help you narrow down your options, take a look at universities’ websites and prospectuses. And go to their Open Days for a more in-depth look at what they offer.

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.