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Canada succeeds in university rankings

October 9, 2009

I was just thinking some more about the THE-QS University Rankings, but instead of looking at the list from an institutional point of view (see previous post), I was thinking about how they reflected the Canadian approach to academia and research. How did Canada do, generally speaking, in the rankings?

In fact, after the US and the UK – who completely dominated the rankings (the US has 13 of the top 20 spots, the UK has 29 of the top 200) – Canada has more universities (11) in the top 200 than any other country, save Japan and the Netherlands (who both also have 11). Canada has more universities in the top 200 than Australia (nine), Germany (10), and France (four). Furthermore, Canada has three universities ranked in the top 40; Japan, a country with more than four times Canada’s population, has three in the top 45, and the highest-ranking Dutch university is ranked 49th.

But we’re not achieving widespread success as the expense of mediocrity. Canada has three institutions in the top 40, which ranks it among the world’s elite – no country apart from the US and the UK has more than that. France has two universities in the top 40, but only two others on the entire list. The Netherlands has the same number of universities in the top 200 as Canada, but their highest-ranking school is 49th. Even on an institution-by-institution basis, McGill is the second-highest ranking school not in the US or the UK.

Not everyone agrees with the spreading of research dollars among so many competing institutions (see “G5”). Personally, I think this list demonstrates that the system is successful: we have a number of institutions that are providing widespread world-class research and teaching across the country. But we can also claim as many “elite” universities as almost any country in the world.

Seems a bit like eating one’s cake and having it too.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim permalink
    October 9, 2009 11:53

    Good analysis. The news reports didn’t bother to dig into the breakdowns and the devil is always in the details in such rankings. While the rankings are based on an arcane set of measurements, the fact is that the institutions at the top of the list are the ones you’d expect, internationally. There are not too many surprises. Of course, as you note, once you move out of the top 25 or so, things get murky fast. The MacLeans rankings are less reliable as they provide much less perspective internationally and are easier to game (and the universities know this). The international ranking serves the purpose of reinforcing the weight we pull internationally to the government. That objectivity is essential, even if the details are glossed over.

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