Quantity over Quality

We are all aware of the consequences of Royal Holloway’s expansion over the last ten to twelve years; the evidence of that change is all around us.  The proliferation of HMOs, increase in student-related ASB and the struggle for parking places have all blighted our lives as the university’s senior management team has scrambled to expand its student numbers.

A change that we may not be so aware of though is Royal Holloway’s position in the world university rankings.

Times Higher Education (THE), formerly known as The Times Higher Education Supplement, is a respected analyst of higher education institutions and standards which, in 2011, launched its World University Rankings.  The rankings, which THE publishes online, are ‘based on 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators that measure an institution’s performance across four areas: teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook’.

For the most complete calendar year to date – 2023 – TES included 1,799 universities across 104 countries and regions.  The top 200 universities are given individual rankings but, beyond that, they are aggregated into groups of 50 and we assume this is because universities, like the results of a Google search, become much less relevant as they disappear down the rankings.

It may, of course, be pure coincidence that the university’s ranking has fallen during the same period that it has been so keen to attract more and more students.  With the Student Union’s emphasis on late night parties – even on weekdays – and special offers on cheap drink; the university’s introduction of much improved sports’ facilities; the creation of roles such as Director of Student Life and Executive Director of Student Journey, one could be forgiven for thinking that the emphasis has been on attracting students through the offer of having a good time rather than academic achievement.  It’s even been rumoured that, in some quarters, the university has gained the moniker ‘Royal Holiday’.

Enterprises are, of course, free to position themselves wherever they like within their chosen market – from the high quality brands that lead markets to the pile-‘em-high-and-sell-‘em-cheap players that offer little in added value.  However, as Royal Holloway sinks to the murkier depths of its calling then we would rather that it did not take our community and living standards with it.