Class sizes fall in universities
Universities are spending more on facilities and class sizes are falling, a study has found.
The amount of money committed to areas such as sport, careers services, health and counselling has steadily increased over the five years of the coalition Government, researchers said.
Analysis by TheCompleteUniversityGuide.co.uk shows that there was an initial worsening in staff to student ratios after 2010, followed by an improvement across the whole of the United Kingdom that began with the controversial introduction of fees of up to £9,000 a year in England.
The most recent figures, for 2013-14, suggest there is an average of 17.08 students per member of staff. In Wales the ratio worsened slightly between 2012 and 2013 before a reduction last year.
More graduates are receiving "good" honours degrees, with 70% achieving first or upper second class honours - up from 68% last year, while student satisfaction has also increased.
The report said a "sustained rise" in the proportion of graduates in professional employment or further study six months after graduation reflects the "continued recovery from the financial crisis".
Dr Bernard Kingston, principal author of TheCompleteUniversityGuide.co.uk, said: "UK students seem to be getting a better deal for their higher tuition fees in almost every area.
"It remains to be seen how far this trend can continue but in the short term at least, students are benefiting from spending on facilities that affect them directly."
The improvement in student-staff ratios has probably been influenced in part by universities recruiting for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise, he said. The REF is a new system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.
Dr Kingston said: "And the graduate employment market has recovered more quickly from the financial crisis than might have been predicted, offering increased chances of professional-level work or further study after graduation.
"There is significant evidence that universities' efforts to develop employability skills has had a knock-on effect on graduate prospects. This is crucial for the first cohort of students from English universities to pay tuition fees of up to £9,000, who graduate this summer."
In this year's table the top three are unchanged, with the University of Cambridge retaining first place in the ranking of 126 universities, the University of Oxford second and the London School of Economics and Political Science third.
Dr Kingston added: "There is a considerable degree of stability at the upper end of the league table this year, suggesting that the transition from the previous assessment of research quality to this year's Research Excellence Framework has not made a significant difference."
There are some changes in the top ten, with Imperial College London up two places to fourth and St Andrews dropping one place to fifth. New entrants Surrey (up four places to eighth) and Lancaster (up two places to ninth) replace Bath and Exeter.