All universities, regardless of courses taught compete with each other through ranking systems. Those rankings appear to be valid, testing multiple aspects of a university and compiling a score to help students understand where they want to study. I cannot speak for the things that i have not experienced but i can give you my opinion as someone who has studied in Manchester and is looking for a postgraduate degree in the UK.
Does it make any difference to study in a university with a higher rank? Of course it does, but maybe that doesn’t matter for you.
I am not british, i came here from Greece. I started an undergraduate course on Biology. My actual goal was to study genetics, it is very soon to tell if choosing biology was a mistake but… i was determined, i had a very specific goal and for me genetics would be better. On the other hand i was very young and scared to study in another country, my parents thought its better to study biology and then maybe i could follow a more specific career when i am older and wiser. So that’s what i did, in my final year i chose a dissertation on healthcare, but that was only available to some students and many people cannot have that opportunity.
Also, the ranking, my university isn’t bad, but it isn’t the best either. I am at Manchester Metropolitan University, which is considered “worse” than the University of Manchester. They are next to each other by the way.
Universities in the UK are like businesses. Something that is completely opposite to what i have gotten used to back in Greece. But it works (unlike Greece), funding exists, facilities are excellent and you have access to many opportunities.
Until my graduation i was thinking that universities rankings are nonsense.
But they are not.
An undergraduate degree is simple, it requires you to pay and the university teaches you. Simple. And at the end they dedicate a very small budget for your research to write your dissertation. There is a difference. Universities like the University of Cambridge can afford to give more funding to their students in all courses. That is especially important in PhDs.
Now that i know the difference, when i chose where to do my PhD i will choose a university that is actively investing in research on my field and has a lot of students (thus income). My university invests in everything but my field. Which was great until i graduate. Then what? You can always get funding from external sources but unless you are getting amazing grades that’s not really an option.
Then, to be accepted for a PhD in a high rank university you need very good grades and experience, because you are competing with other people who may be more qualified or older, thus having experience as lab assistants etc. It is hard. But it doesn’t have to be. If you start looking for degrees regardless of the university rankings you may find “small” universities offering great opportunities. That is for a few people most of the times because they cant afford many, but still do not think that a “small” university is worse, if it is willing to fund your project or it has a position for a funded PhD you like, it may be even better for you than the best ranking UK university.
At least that’s my opinion from what i have seen. I wanted to share that and let you know more about it. You can ask me anything in the comments or twitter and expect more posts on these topics since i like helping young people who are interested in science.