Chris Cook The UK universities Olympic medal table

When Usain Bolt, not a naturally modest man, thanks you for your help after clinching his umpteenth gold medal, you have probably done something right. Brunel and Birmingham universities won his praise for their help in preparing and hosting the Jamaican team.

Other universities can claim to have done rather well. I quite liked this exchange on Twitter between William Hague, foreign secretary, and Patrick McGhee, vice-chancellor of the University of East London (which is hosting the US Olympic team).

But on to the medals! Here, courtesy of Podium, the body representing universities and colleges at the London Olympics, is the roster showing which institutions have done best at the sports. If you look on their site, you can see the full list.

For institutions, this table does actually matter: as I wrote last week, universities are an increasingly important spine of Team GB’s infrastructure.

UPDATE – 22:30, 14 August: The Podium list is correct, but it only includes conventional universities and colleges. However, the Open University won two golds and three bronzes. I’ve not included it in the table – some OU athletes are already booked as the undergraduate alumni of other universities, and this could get messy. But, bear in mind, if the OU were entered in it and credited with all of them, it would be in sixth place.

University of Edinburgh3003
University of Nottingham2215
University of Oxford2215
University of Cambridge2125
University of Reading2114
St Mary's University College2013
University of St Andrews2002
University of Bristol1225
University of Bath1203
Peter Symonds College1113
Hopwood Hall College1102
Northumbria University1102
Staffordshire University1102
University of the West of England1102
University of Leeds1023
King's College London1012
Barton Peveril Sixth Form College1001
Bournemouth University1001
Bradford College1001
Cardiff Metropolitan University100
Durham University1001
Kingston University1001
Leeds Metropolitan University1001
University of Sheffield1001
University College London0303

What to make of this table? Here are also some important things to note – and I hope they’ll help illuminate some of the nonsense about sport and education in England that has been swirling around lately:

  • When sample numbers are so small, a few top performers make all the difference: St Mary’s University College is in there because of Mo Farah’s two golds. Edinburgh’s performance has been propelled by Sir Chris Hoy. But what do those two men’s records really tell us about sport at those universities?
  • Britain is particularly strong in a few disciplines, so the table favours universities strong in those few sports: Universities that have produced British rowers (Nottingham, Oxford, Cambridge and Reading) lead the table. But those universities are not as good all-round as, say, Bath or Loughborough.
  • Assigning credit is difficult: Loughborough University does not get credit for Loughborough College students. Gemma Gibbons won a silver in judo while at UEL, but was a world-beater before arriving. Nottingham has real strength in depth and expertise in canoeing and kayaking, but it also happens to be very near to the National Water Sports Centre.

These basic thoughts have a read-across into the “private schools supply our Olympians” stuff: the number of medal-winners is small, so beware of basing analyses of the whole state of British education and sport on them. Private school kids are more likely to row or take part in dressage. The same institutions can often claim credit for pupils brought in on sport scholarships at 16.

Anyway, well done British education.