Rankings don’t necessarily show the whole picture, says Concordia spokesperson
The university marketing firm Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) announced on Feb. 28 that Concordia had risen in the ranks in several subjects in its 2018 World University Rankings list. Notably, QS placed Concordia among the top 51-100 universities in the world at which to study art and design. As of June, Concordia was ranked by QS as one of the top 431-440 universities in the world overall.
“Good news,” according to university spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr. But what do those numbers really mean?
University rankings are based on several criteria, but QS’s most weighted category for the overall ranking is “academic reputation.” According to the firm’s website, academic reputation is determined by surveying 70,000 scholars about which universities are the best for conducting research in their field of expertise.
Barr said that moving up the list is important for Concordia, adding that in the past decade, these rankings have become crucial to establishing a university’s reputation.
“Students, university administrators, board members and donors are paying increasingly close attention to the results [of these rankings],” Barr said. “As are fundraisers, communications and marketing personnel, recruitment officers and others.”
Other criteria used to measure a university’s overall score include “employer reputation,” which is also based on a survey, in this case of 30,000 employers who were asked to identify the universities from which they source the most competent graduates.
Finally, the decision to rank a university higher or lower on the list is based on the amount of useful research that comes out of the institution in a given field. This is measured by analyzing the number of times research from a certain university or college is cited in other researchers’ work. These numbers are sourced from Scopus, an online database of peer-reviewed literature.
However, Barr is critical of the ranking process. She said some of the “experts” who were surveyed may not have been able to judge all universities accurately.
“It is disputable whether the surveyed academic faculty have sufficient knowledge of what is taking place at all universities around the world to objectively and/or accurately judge which ones are doing ‘the best work’ in their field,” she said.
McGill University is frequently listed as one of the top universities in Canada; it is ranked second, behind the University of Toronto, on QS’s Canadian university rankings. Concordia is ranked 16th on the same list.
However, a university’s rank on the QS list is not always representative of student experiences. Maisy Roach-Krajewski, a life sciences student at McGill, was disappointed to learn that despite attending one of the highest-ranked schools in the nation, several of her first-year classes were over-capacity.
“The room legitimately didn’t hold the amount of students that were taking the class, so quite often when I showed up only five minutes early, there would be no seats. So I would just sit on the ground,” she said. “At any time, there would be like five to 10 people sitting on the ground.”
Barr said some older universities might be ranked higher because of their long-standing reputations, and a university’s rank doesn’t mean it will be the right fit for every student.
“No two institutions are equal, and each has its unique history with specific particularities, strengths and weaknesses,” Barr said. “Imperfect as they are, comparative rankings are widely followed and publicized, and represent an opportunity for Concordia in the areas they measure.”
Quacquarelli Symonds did not respond to The Concordian’s request for comment.
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin