10/07/2018

Capital appreciation

London’s top universities are underperforming, in terms of student satisfaction at least. The International Student Barometer finds that international students in London would be significantly less likely to recommend their university than would those in Britain’s other cities. That is, no doubt, in part consequence of their location, for big cities tend to be unfriendly and pricey. Yet New York’s top universities compare better with their compatriots than London’s do with theirs. So what’s the problem in London?

In part, it is the teaching. Imperial is the only one of London’s top universities to get a gold award in the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework; the London School of Economics (LSE) got a bronze, the lowest level of award. It is research excellence that wins an institution a top spot in the global rankings that matter, and a focus on research sometimes comes at the expense of teaching.

Social factors are at work, too. Creating a feeling of community is particularly hard for London’s universities, some of which suffer from the lack of a campus. King’s College London has 160 buildings scattered around the city. A swanky new campus will open in September, and the hope is that this will provide a focus for university life.

The high proportion of foreign students may contribute to the problem. At LSE, half of undergraduates and nearly three-quarters of the whole student body are from overseas. Being a foreign student can be tough, and large groups of foreign students may also lead to social fragmentation.

Yet for most London university students, the positives outweigh the negatives. Most would recommend their institution; most of those interviewed for this article were, on balance, satisfied with their choices. As Even Ajay claims: “The job prospects outweigh three years of misery.”

For an interactive version of the chart see our Graphic Detail blog.