Revealed: The Best UK Universities for Sport (2021-2022)

Revealed: The Best UK Universities for Sport (2021-2022)

Paul Jenkins MSc Paul Jenkins MSc


Choosing which university is right for you is a huge decision. There’s a wealth of information out there to help you choose, and the annual rankings published by places like Times Higher Education and National Student Survey can help you make the right call.

This is a great way to find out how universities compare academically, but what about other deciding factors, such as social or lifestyle choices, which are every bit as important for freshers?

We were surprised to find that although there was plenty of information about academic performance, there was no single, comprehensive ranking for how the best universities compare if you’re interested in sport. So we decided to create our own!

As a former national-level athlete in both sprinting and bodybuilding, DNA Lean founder Paul Jenkins MSc, is passionate about the social, physical and mental benefits sport can have for young people. “I was shocked that in 2021 there is no quick, unbiased way for students to find which universities have the best sports offering. It can be such an important part of the overall university experience.”

Our rankings aim to give students a snapshot of how universities compare across the main sports criteria that matter: the quality of their sports science courses; the breadth of their range of sports facilities; the choice of sports clubs available, and their performance in intra-university competitions.

Ranking universities based on their performance across all of these categories means we can truly name the best UK universities for sport in 2021-2022 - whether you’re a national-level athlete or just play for fun.

CATEGORY 1: Best Sports Science Course

Sports science includes the scientific study of physiology, psychology and biomechanics among other things. Its aim is to understand how humans perform, in order to develop training programmes to help athletes maximise their potential.

It also looks at physiological and psychological responses to sport and exercise, as well as how it can be used to prevent and treat major chronic diseases. Sports science is a crucial study that helps us understand the effect of sport on our bodies and minds.

To establish our rankings for this category, we first looked at the top-ranked universities for sports science from the Guardian's Best Universities in the UK league table. This was based on how satisfied students were with their course, the teaching, and their career prospects after graduating.

We then amalgamated this information with the top-ranked sports science courses according to the Complete University Guide, based on scores for student satisfaction and graduate prospects, to get an overall score. And the winners were...

Robert Gordon University, in Aberdeen, took first place in this category with extremely high scores for student satisfaction when it came to the quality of their course and its teaching. Graduates from the course also scored it highly for the impact it had on their career prospects.

It is little surprise to see Loughborough University in second place - the uni has enjoyed a strong reputation for sports for the past few decades. Universities in the South West performed strongly, with Bath just edging past Exeter into third place.

Rank University Final Score
1 Robert Gordon University 88.13
2 Loughborough University 87.35
3 University of Bath 86.65
4 University of Exeter 86.03
5 Durham University 84.78
6 University of Birmingham 84.28
7 Aberystwyth University 52.13
8 University of Nottingham 49.92
9 University of Glasgow 49.45
10 University of Newcastle 48.75

CATEGORY 2: BEST SPORTS FACILITIES

Good sports facilities are crucial to support practical elements of students' sports studies, as well as ensuring they have access to the swimming pools, tracks, courts, pitches and more needed to pursue their sporting goals, whether at a competitive or recreational level. Here, we were looking for a good variety of high-quality facilities.

To decide on our rankings in this category, we looked at the Complete University Guide’s data on the number of indoor and outdoor facilities, paying attention to how many of these were located on campus.

This time the University of Nottingham won out, with an impressive total of 37 different sports facilities on offer! Importantly, 25 of these are on campus, making them easily accessible for students.

Exeter performed strongly again, with 36 sports facilities in total, 11 of which are outdoor facilities based on campus. It just pipped Edinburgh to the post as, although they have the same number of facilities, Exeter boasts 2 swimming pools on campus, whereas Edinburgh has only 1.

Rank University No. Facilities
1 University of Nottingham 37
2 University of Exeter 36
3 University of Edinburgh 36
4 University of East Anglia 35
5 University of Birmingham 33
6 University of Sheffield 32
7 University of Leicester 30
8 Nottingham Trent University 30
9 Swansea University 29
10 University of York 28

CATEGORY 3: BEST SPORTS CLUBS OFFERING

And of course, having great facilities is pointless if there aren’t clubs to use them! Next we looked at the variety of sports clubs on offer, where PureGym’s excellent rankings of the universities with the most sports teams, and the most sports teams per student, came in handy.

Armed with the quantity of clubs, we then compared this with the quality - by analysing each university’s performance in the British University & Colleges Sport (BUCS) League Table. By combining these two areas in our rankings, we could showcase the sports club offerings for both competitive and amateur sports people.

Despite not winning outright on either quantity or quality, the University of Nottingham came out on top in this category through having a strong showing across both areas.

The University of Bristol placed second, mainly thanks to its sheer variety of clubs on offer, with some 90 teams available.

Third place goes to Loughborough University, who dominated the BUCS league table but fell short in their variety of clubs and number of teams per student.

In our tie-break for 4th place, Edinburgh squeezed in just above Oxford, as it achieved a higher score in the BUCS league table. And likewise, in the battle for 8th place, Bath's BUCS score just tipped it over the edge, ahead of Lancaster.

Rank University Final Score
1 University of Nottingham 67.50
2 University of Bristol 55.00
3 Loughborough University 50.00
4 University of Edinburgh 47.50
5 Oxford University 47.50
6 Durham University 45.00
7 University of Exeter 40.00
8 University of Bath 37.50
9 Lancaster University 37.50
10 University of Birmingham 35.00

CATEGORY 4: BEST UNIVERSITIES FOR SPORTS OVERALL

So, on to the rankings you’ve been waiting for! We totalled up each university’s score across the three categories to produce our overall winner. Drumroll please...

The University of Nottingham came out on top again, meaning we can officially say it is the best university for sports in the UK for 2021-22! The uni placed strongly in every category, coming first for sports facilities and sports clubs, and eighth for its sports science courses. Nottingham Universities motto, "We don't settke for ordinary", definately seems to be the case when it comes to sports.

The University of Exeter takes the silver overall, with strong showing across all three categories, and Loughborough University comes in third, thanks in large part to its excellence in sporting competitions.

Rank University Final Score
1 University of Nottingham 230
2 University of Exeter 200
3 Loughborough University 170
4 University of Edinburgh 150
5 University of Birmingham 120
6 (joint) Durham University 110
6 (joint) University of Bath 110
7 Robert Gordon University 100
8 University of Bristol 90
9 University of East Anglia 70
10 Oxford University 60


« Back to Blog