University rankings may have some relative value, but they often ignore the strengths specific to each institution, according to Concordia’s director of institutional planning Bradley Tucker.
“It’s taking a series of indicators and it’s looking at everyone according to the same yardstick,” Tucker said, referring specifically to the 2010 Maclean’s university rankings released last week. “What I disagree with is that all universities have the same relative strengths.”
In the Maclean’s ranking, Concordia placed 11th out of 12 comprehensive universities, the same rank as last year. The low placement is something Tucker says won’t change until their “performance indicators” change.
One of his criticisms of the ranking system was that it measured university input and output, but ignored “outcome” or how students contributed to society after graduation. “I think a ranking has to take account of the student experience while they’re in the institution, which Maclean’s does, and it has to take account of what happens after our students graduate.”
Reputation is a decisive criterion in the Maclean’s ranking system, amounting to 20 per cent of the score, something Tucker also highlighted as one of the more questionable elements. “I’ve called it the black box of the Maclean’s indicators,” he said.
To gauge a school’s reputation, Maclean’s asks university administrators to rank schools that they know on their degree of excellence, Tucker said. But he believes that many of these respondents will still rate a school despite not truly knowing that much about a particular institution.
Tucker also noted that Maclean’s ranking system claims to judge schools on a number of “key skills,” but many of their criteria don’t seem to qualify as such in the traditional sense of the words.
“To me, the amount of money you get from the government is not a skill. The amount of money you have to devote to libraries is not a skill,” he said, also mentioning the student-faculty ratio.
According to a statement sent to the Concordian by Mary Dwyer, senior editor of universities at Maclean’s, the criteria are actually determined “by the availability of the data and examine many of the same performance measures tracked by university administrators.” Maclean’s only uses publicly available information for their rankings.
The statement also said that Maclean’s “recognizes that the rankings cannot give a complete picture of a university,” which is why they include other information in the editorial package that accompanies the rankings every year.
While he doesn’t think a fully comprehensive ranking system exists now, Tucker does believe that it’s possible. “I think you can have a one size fits most,” he said.
So where does Tucker believe Concordia would be ranked, all their strengths considered?
“At the top. Concordia is unique in its disciplinary mix and in what it offers students in the environment it offers,” he said. “I’m sorry you’re not going to find anything like Concordia anywhere in North America.”
Concordia was singled out by Maclean’s this year in a section called “On the Radar,” which noted the schools’ strong fine arts and humanities reputation. “They choose a couple of universities that don’t always fare as well as we would like in the rankings,” said Concordia’s director of media relations Chris Mota. “But they put us out there because there’s a buzz about the university and there’s a real interest among students.”
Mota also referenced a quote from Cathrin Bradbury, the editor of Maclean’s intelligence unit, in a recent interview on CJAD’s the Ric Peterson Show. “Concordia is on a lot of people’s lips and a lot of kids think it’s an interesting school,” Bradbury said. “So I think it’s important that we not just go by the rankings but look at places that are doing interesting things.”
For Tucker, however, this section of the magazine “is a way that Maclean’s itself has acknowledged that it is flawed in some way because it is not capturing a lot of what many students are interested in.”
Despite all the criticisms, Tucker acknowledged the use of rankings as one of many tools hopeful students use to choose their universities. He simply advised that “If you’re going to look at rankings, look at a lot of them and look at them critically. And look at them with an eye for what’s important to you.”