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Decisions, Decisions

Posted on 10/04/2013

Increasingly, prospective students are calling upon league tables as a key resource in making decisions about which universities to apply to. Research by economists here at Royal Holloway has found a correlation between departments moving up league tables and stronger application rates. Individual departments with improving league table results experienced a rise in applications of nearly 5%. The trend is particularly pronounced amongstoverseas applicants.

Jessie Jia and Arnaud Chevalier, the authors of the research, have concluded that universities cannot be complacent with respect to safeguarding their rankings, ‘so long as they wish to establish and maintain a consistent reputation to attract the best of students’.

Other findings from the research include:

  •           Influence of rankings on decision making by prospective students has increased since the introduction of tuition fees
  •           An improvement by one standard deviation in a popular league table correlated with an average 4.8% increase in applications, and an 11% increase in applications from overseas students
  •           Law and business were most impacted, increasing at more than twice the average application rate

The increase in applications was not relevant across the board, however; only those departments that were already in the upper part of league tables experienced a boost whilst students were ‘more or less indifferent’ to changes for departments in the lower half.

The research, which drew on eight years of data from the Guardian’s annual university guide, will be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference this week. It has also received coverage in the Guardian and University World News. 


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