Is it time for a univeristy league table for PhD’s?

With the increasing number of people undertaking a PhD in the UK, and indeed worldwide, the environment seems to be becoming more like a marketplace. Particularly with undergraduate student numbers down this year in the Russell Group, which may be new reality rather than a blip, the money bought into the institution through PhD’s is more important. Not to mention the importance of having high PhD numbers in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (and future ones).

Certainly at Southampton the number of PhD’s has exploded over the past few years. From speaking to past PhD’s there were 7 people based in the department working on a PhD in 2008 (all years), this year alone there are ~28 new PhD’s starting.

This has got me thinking about how power may be shifting from the employer (the university) who in the recent past would perhaps be oversubscribed by excellent candidates and could therefore pick and choose from a wide pool, to the candidates. Certainly in the case of the very best candidates for a PhD they should be in increasing demand by institutions. In such an environment it is useful for these candidates to know where they might be more likely to thrive and for all candidates to know which institutions offer the best package of support and resources for PhD’s.

Although “league tables” are a blunt instrument, something of this type would seem to be the logical step given it is the way top graduate employers, undergraduate courses, and indeed research itself (through the aforementioned REF) are assessed.

So what information could and should be included if trying to identify which institutions are the best to do a PhD at? I would argue that information generic to university life (nightlife, etc) shouldn’t be included as these things are already amply assessed and ranked in other places. Things that seem important to me as a person at the end of their third year are:

  • Dedicated Post-grad library?
  • Space for post-grad reading? (either uni wide, or department specific)
  • Secure space for storing own books?
  • Staff rooms/post-grad common rooms
  • Number of academic journals accessible directly through library
  • % of candidates registering for MPhil/PhD who go onto to be granted a PhD
  • Average completion time for PhD
  • Avg Number of papers published during PhD candidature
  • Employment rate within 6m of completion
  • % of completed PhD’s who go onto postdoctoral research
  • Laptop/Desktop/No computing
  • Dedicated desk space/hot-desk/no desk
  • Average contact time with supervisor
  • Some form of satisfaction rating (?)

Please add any others you think are important in the comments. Particularly things that you have had access to that really helped you in your PhD, or things you really wish you had access to. Also if you are brave say where you think your institution would figure in a league table!



  1. Training – both generic skills and specific methodological/software based training available within the institution. This is vital, but varies widely between institutions. The funding available for PhD students from the institution for training, conferences, fieldwork etc is also important, particularly for students who are not research council funded.

  2. Oh so many things
    -Stability within the department (my department has moved 4 times since I started in 2007),
    -Private or small group study space throughout candidature, consideration that this is equally important for part-time students who often seem to get excluded from the study space lottery but in actual fact with young children/work commitments have a specific need for quiet space away from home to work,
    -Convenient high quality childcare where needed,
    -Excellence in supervision training,
    -Writing support.

  3. eleanortighe · · Reply

    hmmmmm my experience and with regards to funding, it still seems you don’t choose your phd location it chooses you…

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