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By Matt Stokes, Alis Lewis and James Restall
Magdalen College has reclaimed the place at the top of the Norrington Table which it lost last year to Merton College.
A preliminary version of the table, which ranks Oxford colleges by undergraduate degree classifications, was published by the University on Monday.
The latest table sees Brasenose continue its seemingly unstoppable ascent to take second place, after rising from 22nd in 2010 to 10th last year. New College comes in third, the same ranking as last year.
Perhaps the biggest upset however was Merton, traditionally the highest achieving college, which slipped to 14th place. It was ranked first last year, and has not been outside of the top three for more than ten years.
Christ Church also slipped from 2nd place to 9th, and Worcester from 6th to 13th, while Lincoln rose from 10 places to 5th and Balliol 14 places to 7th. Wadham also faired well, rising from 7th to 4th.
Professsor David Clary, President of Magdalen, said “We are delighted that Magdalen has come top of this year’s Norrington Table. Congratulations are due to our finalists for their outstanding performance and also to their tutors.”
He attributed his college’s “excellent examination results” to the provision of “tutorial teaching by experts in all the subjects studied by our students”.
Alan Bowman, Principal of Brasenose College, wrote in an email to staff and students: “These excellent achievements reflect the admission of a highly gifted set of students who have benefited from excellent teaching.
He added: “Our undergraduates have in addition been aided greatly by the sense of community across the whole college. We can all be proud of the success of the College and its students, and the contribution that we each make to that in our own way.”
Anna Broadley, a Brasenose history student, said: “I think we’re all really surprised with the results albeit slightly concerned we’re now officially nerdier than Merton!”
Sofía Abasolo, a recently-graduated English student at Merton, poked fun at her college’s image, saying: “I don’t know what went wrong to be honest. The usual curfews were in place and only one guy in our year broke them by going to Park End one week, and he was immediately sent down, so my guess is that we were just too stupid.
She added: “I really hope Merton bounces back next year because this is incredibly embarrassing. Without brains, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what Merton’s identity would be; and to be honest, I don’t care to find out.”
A Merton finalist who did not wish to be named does not believe that standards are slipping at his college. He told The Oxford Student: “Ultimately, finalists at other colleges did better than us – it happens. It’s just when it happens to Merton, everyone gets excited.”
He added: “If nothing else, maybe this will get shot of a reputation which has hindered the good work of our access schemes and the like once and for all.”
The finalist cited a number of factors which could have led to this year’s result including Merton/Mansfield’s improved performance on the sports field, an increase in Blues’ players from the college and the creation of the Mertonbury music event.
He said that his time at Merton was characterised by an “overwhelming atmosphere of fun and friendliness” but added does not believe that this directly cause a more laid back attitude towards work amongst the finalists.
Dr Catherine Paxton, the Senior Tutor at Merton, congratulated Magdalen for topping the Table. She told The Oxford Student: “While it is undeniably disappointing to have slipped in the Table, we are nonetheless very proud of the individual achievements on the part of our undergraduate finalists and their tutors which is behind our own results this year.
“Whether we are fourteenth or first, we are always focused on how best to support our students in fulfilling their academic potential.”
At the bottom end of the table, perennial lowest-performers Harris Manchester broke from last place to rise to 25th. LMH (Lady Margaret hall) came 30th and last, falling eight places, while Teddy Hall came in 29th and Pembroke 28th, a fall of 13 places.
The results are still only in their preliminary stage, and are likely to change when a final version is released in September.
The Table was created by Sir Arthur Norrington in the 1960s, and ranks colleges according to the number of each degree classification awarded. The University warns that the rankings are of “limited statistical significance” because of the small number of students at each college.
PPHs (Public and Private Halls) are ranked in a separate table, which was topped by Wycliffe Hall which achieved a score of 80.00%, a figure which would have placed it 1st in the college rankings, exactly 04.oo% above Magdalen. St Bennet’s came second on the PPH table with a score of 64.62%, a lower score than was achieved by LMH who came bottom of this year’s college table.
The Norrington Table is frequently criticised for its statistical utility. Many claim it is biased towards large colleges and those with a high number of science subjects, where more 1st class degrees are awarded. The large variations from year to year beyond the most consistent high-achieving colleges is seen by many as a marker of the table’s irrelevance.