26 May 2004
Aston nonplussed by confusion
ASTON'S DIZZYING RISE up the national newspaper league table rankings (up 11 places to 22nd in The Times; up to 13th overall in The Guardian) surprises seemingly all but the university itself.
The Guardian newspaper would be surprised if its research-led Russell Group rivals are ruffled by the parvenu's placing. But ask Russell Group vice-chancellors trailing Aston whether they would prefer to be ahead or behind it and the response will either be the former or a lie.
Aston is also thought of as something of a 'hidden jewel'; though its base in the middle of the country's second biggest city means the university itself is not exactly taken aback by the 13,000 applicants hoping to grab one of its 1700 places every year.
Nor does Aston aspire to dreary dreaming spires: it is fully aware that it needs to build on its success to meet future demand. Its new �10 million Academy of Life Sciences will boast two state-of-the-art scanners: magnetoencephalography and magnetic resonance imaging; it has earmarked �4 million to upgrade its IT network to support its teaching and learning; it has sold a corner of its land for Matthew Boulton College's imminent �38 million campus.
There is also something approaching astonishment about Aston Business School's (ABS) rankings (3rd in The Times behind Oxford and LSE; 4th in The Guardian). Yet this is no surprise to ABS, holder of EQUIS, AACSB, AMBA* with an excellent 5 rating for research and an unassailable 24/24 for teaching. ABS is currently scouting for new talent to add to its 100 academics and is spending �22 million on an extension that will house them.
'We are moving rapidly up the various league tables of universities,' said Professor Graham Hooley, Aston University's senior pro-vice-chancellor. 'Whether the table is concerned with teaching only (as in The Guardian) or includes research (as in The Times), it is great to see this consistent pattern emerging,' he continued.
'And Aston's success in the tables is shared across all our schools with particularly good results in engineering, biosciences, pharmacy, business and management, psychology and languages.'
Possibly its rivals are surprised that Aston is so successful while remaining, irksomely, accessible; surely the two do not go hand in hand. Its benchmark for students from state schools is 88 per cent: Aston takes 91 per cent; its benchmark for people from lower social classes is 29 per cent: Aston takes 37 per cent; its benchmark for attracting people from low participation neighbourhoods is 13 per cent, which it currently fulfils but plans to better.
What surprises Aston is why there is so much astonishment at its success.
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Notes for editors:
* AMBA: Association of MBAs
AACSB: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business: www.aacsb.edu/accreditation/
EQUIS: European Quality Improvement System
QAA: Quality Assurance Agency
RAE: research assessment exercise
Aston Business School: www.abs.aston.ac.uk/