By Madeleine Hartland
The 2021 Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World Rankings released on 9 June have placed Durham at 86th, its worst score in 5 years. Although the University has chosen to focus on its sustained high academic reputation, praising “the amazing talent and dedication of our staff and students”, this has been overshadowed by its poor performance on other indicators.
[blockquote author=”” ]the obvious explanation for this is simply that our academics are overworked.[/blockquote]
Durham prides itself on its reputation as a ‘research-led’ university, justifying its established position in the Russell Group. However, it ranks only 7th in the UK for citations per faculty, lagging behind non-Russell Group Lancaster. Since 2016, it has fallen from 43rd to 89th by this measure. We are a long way from our 2027 target of top three in the UK for citations per staff member.
Considering its high academic reputation, the obvious explanation for this is simply that our academics are overworked. This year was punctuated by strikes by staff protesting “insecure contracts, inequalities in pay, and harmful workloads”, among other demands, demonstrating a culture of sacrificing staff wellbeing for maximum profit. It is little surprise research output has fallen.
[blockquote author=”” ]Durham has focused on taking on as many students as possible without increasing staff numbers.[/blockquote]
Employer reputation, which the university has long used as a key selling point to prospective students, has taken another hit. From 39th worldwide in 2016, Durham has come in at just 51st, and 9th in the UK. For students who have chosen Durham partly for the respect it claims to have among employers, it is hugely worrying that our future careers may be impacted by choices made by the university to continually prioritise profit ahead of quality.
Ben Sowter, QS Director of Research, has explained that “increases in student numbers need to come alongside sufficient increases in student capacity, without which there is an increased likelihood that teaching quality will suffer.” Instead of compensating for the increased uptake in students predicted across all universities, Durham has focused on taking on as many students as possible without increasing staff numbers accordingly. As a result, we have scored the worst of all categories in the faculty staff-student ratio, coming in a shocking 32nd out of all UK universities.
If its damaging impact on the quality of our education is not enough to persuade the university to slow down its expansion, perhaps its falling reputation worldwide will encourage it to listen to our demands.
Image: Kimberly Vardeman. Available via Flickr.