Discrepancies in university rankings
‘Tis the season for visits to campus from eager high-school seniors.
Last Thursday, annual Canadian university rankings were released to inform their decisions. The Globe and Mail’s Canadian University Report and Maclean’s University Rankings offer up a fresh batch of statistics, placing McMaster relatively high in many categories.
McMaster maintained its sixth-place standing in the Medical Doctoral category from Maclean’s rankings.
The publication makes such comparisons by using fourteen numerical indicators from each institution, using such data as the amount of research money, number of student and faculty awards, and number of library holdings.
In The Globe and Mail rankings, which assign grades to each school based on a survey of over 30,000 undergraduate students, McMaster averaged out around a B+ in multiple measures of student satisfaction. The University scored particularly well in student-faculty interaction, teaching style, campus atmosphere, recreation and athletics, and buildings and facilities among other large universities.
Not surprisingly, McMaster received a lower grade than all others (C-) in ease of course registration.
Dr. Peter Smith, VP Academic, is pleased with the University’s performance. “McMaster generally does well in all of [the rankings], which is rewarding,” he said in an interview. “It shows that McMaster is pretty good at everything it does.”
People should be wary of taking the rankings too seriously, though. As University president Patrick Deane explained, the rankings “provide a snapshot of one moment in time.”
Their methodology, he noted, is not consistent. Maclean’s focuses more on the reputation and financial aspects of schools, while the Globe and Mail looks to students for input. This can lead to discrepancies between the results.
For example, the Maclean’s University Report, now in its 21st edition, recently had to reorganize its categories, which are determined based on range of program offerings and funding.
Determining how universities should be compared is a complex process, and leaves room for debate.
“I don’t think any one of the rankings sums up the state of the University,” Deane said. “But as a group they do provide an interesting perspective on how we’re doing.”
All of this comes in the wake of the release of the Times Higher Education Report, released in early October, which placed McMaster 65th on its list of the world’s 100 best universities. McMaster was one of five Canadian universities to make the list.
“I’m always very proud of that,” said Deane of McMaster’s rank. “It actually suggests an institution that is very powerful for its size.”