Oxford University has published an official academic ranking of its 30 undergraduate colleges for the first time in its history. Merton came top, closely followed by St John’s, with Balliol in third place.
There are significant differences between the positions in the official Norrington table and this year’s unofficial version, as published in The Times, which puts St John’s first. The largest discrepancy is Pembroke’s rank – ninth in the unofficial and seventeenth in the official table.
The University hopes that its own table will make the inaccurate, unofficial one redundant. For this to happen, the University may have to release its table more quickly – the Times published its version on 22 July, the University on 6 September.
In February 2005 it emerged that the University had secretly been compiling its own Norrington table for internal distribution; a revelation which hastened the University’s change in policy.
Dame Fiona Caldicott, chairwoman of the Conference of Colleges, which represents the colleges’ interests, said, “Ranking colleges on the basis of degree results is not very significant, as the numbers involved per college are small, and the results are dependent on the performance of a particular group of students in a particular year, rather than on the college itself.
“However, in order to be open and transparent, we are publishing these tables so that the public has access to the full, accurate data.”
The Norrington table was originally proposed by Sir Arthur Norrington, a former President of Trinity College and Vice-Chancellor, and first published in 1964. The Norrington Score which determines each college’s rank is calculated by allocating a certain number of points for each degree class: five points for a first, three for an upper second, two for a lower second and one for a third. The total score is then expressed as a percentage of the maximum possible score (i.e. if every student obtained a first the college would score 100 percent).
Unofficial versions of the Norrington table are published annually in some national newspapers. However, their methods of data collection are unreliable when compared to the University’s access to full, accurate tables of results.
The newspapers compile their tables by paying enterprising graduates to copy down the finals results posted outside the Examination Schools on the High Street, a method which has obvious potential for errors. Furthermore, under the Data Protection Act, students can opt out of having their results publicly posted, and so for several years the unofficial tables have been based on incomplete data.
From year to year there is much movement within the table – University College shot up from 26th in 2004 to fifth in this year’s unofficial Norrington table. Merton, however, has come top for five of the past six years.
Claire Palmer, a student at St Edmund Hall, said, “We are a nation obsessed with league tables. We need to remember that there’s more to a college than its position in the Norrington Table.”ARCHIVE: 0th week MT 2005