Merton Steals Magdalen’s Crown

Merton College headed this year’s Norrington Table, with 40 percent of students achieving firsts, as college publish their undergraduate degree results for 2011.

Christ Church came second, and New College third, while last year’s top college Magdalen dropped to fourth.

However, the biggest fall came as Oriel dropped from a respectable 11th place in 2009/2010 to second last, as Harris Manchester once again placed at the bottom.

Mansfield College’s placing represented the biggest climb, as the college’s score moved it up 17 places to tie with Pembroke and University College in 12th position.

The Norrington Table is based on scores assigned to each college, calculated according to the classifications of undergraduate degrees achieved by their students. A 1st class degree gains 5 points, then 3 to a 2:1 degree, 2 to a 2:2 degree and 1 to a 3rd class degree. The final score is presented as a percentage of the maximum possible score, or the points achieved if every student had been awarded a first. Consequently, while Christ Church students were awarded more firsts this year than those at Merton, Merton’s smaller size allowed it to triumph.

Permanent Private Halls are ranked seperately owing to their small size. This year, St Stephen’s House topped the PPH table, as Blackfriars came lowest. However, such small numbers of students makes their results especially volatile, as St Stephen’s last year came second bottom.

Nevertheless, the university warned against taking the table’s results overly seriously: “the number of students per college is relatively small and the rankings are therefore of limited statistical significance.”

“Since there is clearly an interest in the tables from the media and the public, the results are published so everyone has access to the data.”

An Oxford Student investigation in 2008 found that a college’s wealth is a big factor in its exam performances. In 2008, all colleges with more than £200,000 per student placed in the top ten, while only one college in the bottom ten had over £100,000 per student.

The table has also been accused of bias towards colleges with a large number of students reading science subjects, as normally a higher proportion of students gain a first compared to arts degrees.

All these factors work against Harris Manchester College, which has frequently been at the bottom of the table over the past decade. The college is not only small, with approximately 100 undergraduates, but has a large population of arts students, especially those studying law and PPE. It is also known as one of the poorest colleges.

The table is described as an “interim” table by the university. A final table will be published later this year in order to allow for the results of appeals.