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An example of rank stupidity?

There are metrics which help you choose a Masters, but use them with care says Melanie Butler

Recently I received a copy of a document doing the rounds of UK Universities. It was headed ‘Top 50 Applied Linguistics/Tesol/Language Education Postgraduate Programmes in UK Universities 2019-20’. Nobody seemed to know where it came from, so, since we do the UK rankings of language centres (based on the British Council inspection reports), somebody thought it might be ours.

If it were, I would have expected a raft of legal letters: Oxford was ranked at 12, Cambridge was ranked at 20 and down at number 35 was SOAS, University of London which no longer, according to its website, seems to have any EFL-related taught postgraduate programmes at all. It may have been based on a mass survey of Masters students at the named universities, though you’d think those universities might have noticed.

The EL Gazette has been listing UK Masters since at least 1987. And more than once in the last 30 years we have used publicly available data from third sources to compare types of universities on one or more metrics.

We do so in this supplement: we are ranking the UK university language centres based on their British Council reports (see page 29). The main takeaway: seventy per cent of them are excellent, according the EL Gazette rankings, and 83 per cent are strong at teaching, based on the British Council inspectors report. However, when it comes to choosing a Masters, this information is only really helpful to people looking for courses that are run in language centres (often an excellent choice), or those who need to improve their English level to get into a Masters in the first place. And, of course, it only applies to the UK.

There is more publicly accessible information on universities in the UK than for universities anywhere else in the world. The reason is simple: according to the OECD, the British publish more educational data on a national basis than any other country in the world. The only problem is finding it.

For example, we have the Teaching Excellence Framework, which measures the quality of teaching across every university, but only in England and Wales, and only for undergraduate degrees. For our Masters listings starting on page 23, these are starred.

To find a useful international ranking, you have to turn to the QS Top Universities Ranking by subject, which is based largely on the academic reputation of individual departments within a university.

The QS ranking is really helpful, at least when it comes to EFL-related Masters in departments of Linguistics, Education and (at least in the UK) English language. When it comes to Masters tucked away in other departments, or in language centres, it doesn’t tell you anything at all. It does allow us, though, to compare departments across the world, and put together global rankings of the academic reputation of English-medium departments in both Linguistics and Education which offer relevant taught postgraduate courses.

Hot takes? Well, turn to pages 20 and 21 to find out. But while UK Masters predominate, not least because most top US universities don’t offer them, they face stiff competition: from Australia, the Netherlands and, in the far east, Hong Kong and Singapore.

If we had more data on them, we would have put them on our Masters listings.

Image courtesy of ROB SMALLEY
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Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.

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