I sometimes wonder what the league tables or rankings for Universities really mean. I don’t mean that I am confused as notions like student satisfaction or research output are all pretty clear. What I am getting at is that giving a University 99th place like the University of Central Lancashire or 46th place for Keele University really doesn’t mean that much in my experience. As a qualitative researcher perhaps I am biased against such quantitative benchmarks. I didn’t choose these two examples at random although I have attended many Universities over the last 20 years. My point is that having attended UCLAN back in 1992-1995 I found the Government programme to be second to none. Studying politics, international relations and public administration prepared me to compete successfully against others far more privileged in their academic pedigree when it came to post-graduate study. Conversely, although Keele University at position 46 would suggest a far better experience this was not the case. Although I completed a very successful Ph.D which attracted international media coverage and has been widely cited in academic journals, what you get out of a University course is really dependent on what you put into it. Often academics have very little time for you or if you are a post-graduate they might not be an authority on your specific research area. This was not to say I had a poor experience at Keele but to say that the institution itself was marginal in terms of determining success or failure. At D.Phil you really are pretty much alone and that’s the way it should be. So basic things like getting the reading done, putting effort into seminar papers, attending lectures and doing the ‘donkey-work’ where getting hold of the right journal articles is concerned makes all the difference. My central argument here is that once you are accepted onto a University course the ‘quality’ benchmarks mean little but self-discipline, determination, thirst for knowledge and keenness where attention to detail is concerned makes the world of difference. So what’s my advice? Go somewhere which enriches your social and academic life and that broadens your horizons. Leave rankings and league tables to football clubs!
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