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Margin Notes

Another week, another international university ranking

Times Higher Education comes out with its own list of the top 200.


I noted last week that Canada’s universities slipped slightly in the QS World University Rankings. This week offers a fresh set of numbers in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. These exercises are clearly big news: the THE rankings were the top story in the Globe and Mail’s print edition this morning, “Canada’s universities make the grade globally.”

I should have noted in my blog last week that until this past year the two outfits, QS and THE, had collaborated in presenting a single world university ranking. However, they went their separate ways after last year’s effort, which is why we have two different rankings in two weeks. The methodology behind the THE ranking was also overhauled this year, with the U.K. publication partnering with Thomson Reuters to expand the amount of data used in the rankings exercise. (The Chronicle of Higher Education has more on the new THE rankings here.)

What I find most interesting is how the THE rankings differ from last week’s QS offering. McGill University was the top Canadian university last week (19th overall), but in this week’s ranking drops to third best at 35th spot. University of Toronto moves up from its 29th spot last week to 17th in this week’s exercise, giving it bragging rights for top spot among Canadian institutions.

This shows clearly how rankings are a rather imperfect exercise. However, looking at the two together, one can reasonably claim that U of T, McGill and University of British Columbia are Canada’s most prestigious postsecondary institutions and among the very best in the world.

As for the other Canadian universities that cracked the top 200, it’s a bit more of a shuffle. McMaster University, Université de Montréal and University of Alberta made both lists, but the THE rankings bring several other Canadian universities into the top 200 that were excluded last week: University of Victoria, Dalhousie University and Simon Fraser University (which eked in at the 199th spot). Off this weeks’ list but on last week’s: University of Western Ontario and University of Calgary.

Your thoughts and comments greatly appreciated.

T.H.E. Rank University
17 University of Toronto
30 University of British Columbia
35 McGill University
93 McMaster University
127 University of Alberta
130 University of Victoria
138 Université de Montréal
193 Dalhousie University
199 Simon Fraser University
Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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  1. Jo VanEvery / September 16, 2010 at 16:23

    however hard they work at it, the problem with this kind of ranking is still “best at what”. No university is best at everything. There are some very good departments (for either teaching or research) in universities that might otherwise rank low in these rankings and some poor departments or poor areas of performance in some of the best.

    I’m not at all sure who these rankings benefit, apart from large universities who use the ranking to promote themselves to potential funders of all sorts.

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