Today's topic of lunchtime conversation was this league table, the Halifax-Times Higher Education quality-of-life index, which appeared in the Times Higher about two weeks ago. It purports to compare the "quality of life" amongst the different higher education institutions in the UK.
Which is not a bad idea, in and of itself. Indeed, lifestyle factors played a part in our decision to move from Warwick to Liverpool in 2006. You get the coastal location, grammar schools, proximity to Snowdonia, that sort of stuff. Here's the catch: according to the league table, we seem to have made an appalling howler! We seem to have plunged from 16th place to 109th place (which is pretty close to the bottom, almost as bad as Manchester).
In contrast to the geographical area around Warwick, it would seem that Liverpool suffers from a relatively low level of owner-occupancy (although I myself was never required to live in rented accommodation), a lower pass rate amongst school pupils of GCSEs (although, we academics, crafty devils that we are, might be expected to avoid the weaker schools, or failing that, our kids might actually have the smarts to do well despite the performance of their peers), and a higher amount of road traffic (well, it's a city, isn't it). Advantages mentioned in the above paragraph did not enter into the equation.
As I say, studying the general attractiveness of different universities in the context of the "bigger picture" seems to be a worthwhile endeavour. But, unless such a study is carried out with rigour, discipline and a willingness to question one's own approach, it ends up being completely pointless. Although, if it causes people to lose faith in league tables generally, that may be a useful side effect.
NBER Market Design meeting at Stanford: Oct 28-9
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