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Opinion & Analysis

#Stephen'sNiche: In global ranking, UK universities fare well

File photo dated 19/10/15 of a graduation ceremony, as there is a significant gap between would-be students' expectations of university and the realities of student life, a new report warns. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday July 4, 2017. It suggests that many university applicants do not have a good understanding of what it will be like to study for a degree and are unclear on issues such as the time they will spend in lectures and the academic support they will get. See PA story EDUCATION Students. Photo credit should read: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

With a new academic year underway, many students will be thinking about their upcoming ‘A’ level exams and the possibility of going on to higher education. Some may have already decided what course they’d like to take and what universities they’ll apply to. Others may be poring over the prospectuses or perusing the relevant websites before making up their minds.

All I imagine, if only for curiosity’s sake, will be interested in looking up the 2017 Academic Ranking of World Universities that’s recently been published. According to Wikipedia, the ranking is considered one of the three most influential university measures, together with QS World University Rankings and Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

In this year’s edition, as in previous ones, United States universities dominate, with 48 in the top 100. Harvard places first for the 15th year with Stanford second.

But, given that’s where most of them will actually go, our students will probably be more interested in how British universities fare. And they do pretty well.

The University of Cambridge has overtaken two other American universities, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley, to make third place overall. Traditional rivals Oxford come in at number seven. There are nine British universities in the top 100 including Cardiff University, which breaks into this élite group for the first time at number 99. My alma mater, Bristol University, is 61st.

For context, only eight of the 28 European Union member states have universities that feature among the world’s 100 best. Germany and Netherlands have four each, France and Sweden three. Spain has none in the top 200.

The full results are available at


I don’t know about you, but the much-vaunted e-government that was supposed to make our lives so much easier didn’t work for me.

I hadn’t resorted to using it before, but when I received a letter from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Department informing me that my car was due for its first roadworthiness test I decided I’d give it a try. Rather than go to the counter at the Test Centre in Devil’s Tower Road, I thought, I’ll arrange an appointment online. After all, the Number Six press release three years ago announcing that e-government had arrived claimed: “No-one will ever need to…queue to book a Driving Test at the MOT Centre”.

Maybe not a driving test, but I’m afraid I did end up having to go there in person to book the roadworthiness test.

Admittedly the problems started after an initial mistake on my part. When I went to the website I booked the first available slot and paid the £31 fee, not remembering I would be away from Gibraltar on that day. Still, this must also have happened to other people I guessed. I’ll just telephone the office and ask to change the date.

Wishful thinking. You have to cancel and rebook online yourself; the staff can’t do it for you. And, by the way, you have to pay the fee a second time before your first payment is refunded.

This wouldn’t have unduly bothered me if things had gone smoothly from then on. But they didn’t.

The computer asked me for a booking number that I hadn’t been given. When I requested it, it said it couldn’t find my appointment with the information provided.

When I called the department a second time the sympathetic lady at the end of the line sounded like she’d heard it all before. Oh dear, you haven’t been sent your booking details. Ah yes, you want to change the appointment but can’t cancel online. Tell you what, why don’t you bring us your logbook and we’ll sort it out.

Which I did the next day.

But it kind of defeats the purpose of e-government, doesn’t it?

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