By Ben Hamer
St John’s College has topped the inaugural Durham academic league table. Following Palatinate’s Freedom of Information request, we can reveal the number of degrees awarded to the 2014 graduates broken down by college (see the full table below). The table is calculated based on the classification of undergraduate degrees (as such Ustinov College does not appear).
Graduates of St Cuthbert’s Society, one of the larger Durham colleges, gained the largest number of firsts, totalling 81, while St John’s College had the highest percentage of honours degree students with over one third graduating with a first.
Conversely, the Queen’s Campus colleges, Stephenson and John Snow, fared worse in the rankings, placing at the bottom. John Snow received the lowest percentage of firsts.
The table should not be used as a definitive source to determine the relative academic prowess of each college. Indeed, as can be seen in the below table, data taken from the past two years shows that there is a great degree of variation between colleges, especially the smaller ones, such as St Chad’s. Likewise, the Queen’s Campus colleges, which have degree programmes separate to Durham City colleges, have their placement in the table determined by the subject students take to a much greater extent than the more programme-diverse City colleges.
The system for admission to colleges has recently changed with Senior Tutors no longer choosing whether a student will be admitted to their college, instead favouring an automated computer system. These changes had not yet come into force for the 2014 graduating cohort, with admissions decisions still being in the hands of Senior Tutors.
Previously colleges could set the selection criteria for students as they saw fit, something that Professor Higgins stated during the changes was ‘not transparent … [or] fair’. As such, selection criteria were not necessarily based on academic merit.
Indeed, the outgoing Vice-Chancellor, Chris Higgins, revealed in a meeting with students in the Pemberton Building in April 2013 that one college (implied to be Hatfield with the allusion to a ‘college beginning with H that is not Hild Bede’) had suggested that sons and daughters of alumni should be given priority.
How the table was calculated
The table ranking was calculated on the basis of a first class degree for each college equaled five points, a 2:1 three points, a 2:2 two points and a third one point (similarly to the Norrington and Tompkins tables of Oxford and Cambridge, respectively). Durham University declined to give the exact figure for classifications with fewer than five individuals on the basis of privacy.
Palatinate seeks to appeal this decision so as to provide more accurate figures. As such, where <5 was given this was worked out as 2 for third class degrees. Columns substantially populated by 0 or <5 from the Freedom of Information requests (such as ‘other’, ordinary degrees, certificates and diplomas, and aegrotat degrees have been left out with the view to including them in the event that an appeal is successful).
The total points for each college is then divided by the total number of honours degree students multiplied by the maximum of five points to produce a percentage (for example, St John’s: 38*5 + 70*3 + 5*2 / 113*5 = 72.57%).
Image courtesy of Durham University.