The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019 were released on 7th September, and it has produced a mixed bag of results for the University of Southampton in the final year under Vice Chancellor Christopher Snowden’s leadership.
Sir Christopher’s message upon the announcement of his retirement earlier in the Autumn that the university’s ‘public impact globally, nationally and regionally increases every year’ is reflected in the results, which give Southampton a rating for ‘international outlook’ of 93.9%. This rating, according to the methodology described on the THE’s website, is calculated based on proportion of international students and staff, and global collaboration. This figure has steadily increased year on year since 2013. Southampton will be particularly proud to see that they have a higher proportion of international students (36%) than universities ranked both above and below it, including, for example, York, with a global ranking of 119th and a 25% intake of international students. This is an impressive figure, no doubt supported by the new Malaysia campus and partnerships with Dongbei University in China and many other Asian networks.
However, the ‘international outlook’ only accounts for 7.5% of the overall calculation. The remaining percentage is based on six other areas of expertise, including ‘teaching’, which has not recovered since a devastating slump in 2012 which saw Southampton fall from 50 to 35. The university now has a ranking of 39.7 in the focus area which sees the likes of ‘reputation survey’ and ‘staff-to-student ratio’ scrutinised. Southampton scores very low in the latter test, and the picture is even more bleak when it comes to student satisfaction, which is 68th in the UK (THE, 2018), as opposed to the overall UK university ranking of 18th (The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019).
There are certainly things to be proud of at Southampton. The university continues to boom in research expertise: earlier this year, former student of electronic engineering Dylan Grey prepared to launch a cutting-edge online service using AI to help customers find the perfect gift. The higher education institution’s role in spreading new knowledge and ideas sits near the very top of influence with a score of 90.2% for citation. The University of Southampton is a founding member of the Russell Group, whose member universities inject £87 billion into the UK economy each year (according to the Russell Group website). Indeed, since 2014, Southampton has steadily improved its overall world ranking. But the university should not be complacent and there are certainly areas for significant improvement, not least in teaching. Perhaps if the University of Southampton took inspiration from its original founder, Henry Robinson Hartley, returning to the core aim of how to ‘best promote the study and advancement’ of students, Southampton’s mixed bag of results in the World University Rankings could begin to recover and excel in all fields again.