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2011 data contributes to fall in 2014 Guardian rankings

Graduate employment data from 2011 and assessment and feedback scores are the main reasons behind Sussex’s fall from 27th to 50th in the 2014 Guardian University Guide, published in the newspaper today (Tuesday 4 June 2013).

The ranking “does not reflect the overall quality of Sussex”, says the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Clare Mackie.

Professor Mackie explains: “A Sussex degree continues to be highly valued by employers.  Those graduating this summer will find that the time they have spent here at Sussex will stand them in good stead for the future in whichever career they choose to pursue.

“The latest Guardian University Guide does not, unfortunately, reflect the overall quality of what Sussex does. It is the only university league table which completely ignores the research standing of universities.  We rate among the top quartile for research performance and research-led teaching is an important part of the Sussex experience.

“This fall in the rankings largely reflects a blip in historic data collected for graduate employment prospects relating to students who started here in 2008 and graduated in 2011. The proportion of that cohort who were unemployed in January 2012 was 12% - the first time we had reached double figures for that measure - and that is what is reflected in this table. That was a one-off - the graduate unemployment rates improved significantly to 8% this year, which is more typical of top universities.”

A further factor is that the Guardian’s data draws upon only what it calls “graduate level jobs” – whereas in fact 84% of Sussex graduates are employed or in postgraduate study six months after graduation.

The University has made significant changes to its employment support for students over recent years, introducing a wide range of new careers initiatives and moving the Careers and Employability Centre into a new, central location within the Library.

This year there has been a 60 per cent increase in students using the careers service and Sussex students are now most likely to start hunting for a graduate job before their final year of university, according to a 2013 Daily Telegraph report.

The other main issue for Sussex was students’ views on how their work was assessed and the feedback they received on it – as measured in the 2012 National Student Survey (NSS). This is an area where the University has already been making significant changes in response to student concerns. 

The University has this year, for example, introduced an entirely new structure for the academic year, with a new mid-year assessment period to improve the quality of assessment and the promptness of feedback provided to students.  Average turn-around times for feedback have improved from 18 days in 2011-12 to 12 days this year. 

Professor Mackie adds: “The changes we are making to improve the student experience at Sussex – investment in facilities, e-technology, recruitment of staff, and growth of the University – are long-term improvements.

 “So, while we are disappointed with the overall ranking, we knew that this drop was coming and we are confident that Sussex will bounce back next year as the improved data starts to filter through.”

Two subjects at Sussex are listed in the Guardian’s top 10 subject lists: Social Work is rated top in the UK; and Sussex is ranked as the 10th best place to study Sociology.

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Posted on behalf of: University of Sussex
Last updated: Tuesday, 4 June 2013


My BBC Sussex interview on this subject can be heard at

From Gabriel Webber on 4 June 2013
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"A further factor is that the Guardian’s data draws upon only what it calls “graduate level jobs” – whereas in fact 84% of Sussex graduates are employed or in postgraduate study six months after graduation. The Guardian surely should draw upon only graduate level jobs. If I was working at McDonald's 6 months after graduating I wouldn't think it right for it to be counted as equal to a graduate job. Plus, one of the main reasons for going to university is to get a sought after graduate level job, so there should be a weighting towards such employment. 

Furthermore, if, "Average turn-around times for feedback have improved from 18 days in 2011-12 to 12 days this year", then some departments must be getting work marked very quickly. As a joint honours student of economics and IR living with a couple of history students, I don't believe any of us have had a piece of work back sooner than 4 weeks of handing it in. If the IR, history and economics department don't get work back particularly quickly, as I imagine is the case with most subjects, there must be several departments getting work back to students within a week or so to bring the average down to 12 days. Highly dubious. 

From Kieran Chappell on 4 June 2013
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From Benjamin Fincham on 4 June 2013
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Oh Dear.My apologies everyone.  On this criterion, I could be dragging Sussex down even further.  I don't intend to seek employment after graduation.  I'm 76.  Which is one of the reasons I am not accepting Mr. Gove's invitation to train as a maths teacher in secondary schools.

From John Billingham on 5 June 2013
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61st for Biosciences. Believable.

From Ian Roberts on 5 June 2013
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I agree with the aforementioned comment about feedback for history students.  I have just finished my history degree at Sussex, and on one occasion this year had to wait 8 weeks for an assignment to be marked and returned to me.  In that time we had an exam and without having received feedback on our essays, were seriously disadvantaged.  This article is typical of the 'passing the buck' culture at Sussex, suggesting that the University's lowly standing in the league tables is the fault of the Guardian ranking system, not the administration itself.  Of course, the number of leavers securing 'graduate jobs' is going to be amongst the critera that a University is marked against, it is all well and good to say 84% of graduates find work after 6 months of finishing, but if its work pulling pints then it hardly looks like £3/9 grand well spent.  Face up to your shortcomings Sussex.

From Harry Yeates on 6 June 2013
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I agree with much that Harry says and the danger is that if Sussex blames the "system" for our poor showing in the Guardian League Tables then we might end up changing nothing!

It says much about our system that I am still using equipment that was here when I arrived at Sussex over 34 years ago and is was not new then!

We all resist change.


From Michael Henry on 7 June 2013
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An average of 12-18days...then like Kieran said,some people are probably getting their work a week or less after turning it in.One feedback came in the morning immediately after the exam on that course,the other came out the day before the exam.For anyone who wasn't satisfied with his results from the feedback,it doesn't help the chances of improving his overall score in any exam.

Secondly,without speaking for or against,if a University appears a number of times on the BBC with demonstration headlines and Police Uniforms over campus,it will have an effect on the school's rankings whether the demonstrations are for academic reasons or not.

From Martin Chibuzo Egede on 7 June 2013
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No surprise here. Everything is going downhill - the course structures, the teaching, the assessments, the physical environment (parts of it look like a tatty old pre war comp) , the people .

So why shouldn't the rankings slide down the table, much like something else sliding down the you know what.

Well, leopards well never change

From Simon Lau on 8 June 2013
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I do not think that everything is going down-hill!  The results to not represent the excellent experience many students have at the University of Sussex and there are plenty of students who can speak eloquently about this.  But clearly this is a wake-up call and we all have to take responsibility for the continuous quality improvement that needs to take place so that Sussex can embrace a new educational Renaissance that engages with the Sussex scholarship crossing the boundaries  of arts, social sciences and sciences.  All organisations have periods of transformation and revival so let's all focus our energies on this now please! 

From Linda Buckham on 14 June 2013
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I stand corrected, it is true not everything is bad. I was refering mainly to the academic side of things.

However I did find the Careers Service very useful indeed and would recommend all Sussex student to make use of it.

From Simon Lau on 17 June 2013
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