Cambridge summer rituals don’t end with the exams, or even with the fancy dress of degree day. The final pantomime is the college league tables. The version that gets most publicity is the “Tompkins Table”, which is basically a first-past-the-post style of ranking. It gives 5 points for a first, 3 points for a 2.1 and so on. Then it produces a score for each college by reckoning their actual points total against what they would have got if every student had been awarded a first. A bit of “weighting” goes into the process, to cancel out the undue influence of subjects which score a lot of firsts. Otherwise any college could “win” by packing the place with (male) mathematicians.
This isn’t an official university ranking (we do have our own internal version, the “Baxter Tables” driven by every imaginable statistical correctness – but they are not made public till September). Peter Tompkins is a Cambridge Maths graduate (what else?) who compiles this table for fun.
Our public line is that is not something that much bothers us. Winning colleges may blazon their success on their website (but even some of those affect a more lofty disdain, and boast only in private). Winners and losers alike join together in patiently explaining that this is all very misleading, that it gives an inappropriate weighting to firsts (when for most of the students it’s a 2.1 that counts), and that anyway very little separates the top from the middle (if not the bottom).
But underneath we’re all a little bit more anxious.