Thursday 16 September 2010

Canada Falling Back in World University Rankings

The Times World University Rankings for 2010 are out and it is not good news for Canada.

Last year 11 Canadian universities were amongst the top 200 ranked universities in the world. This year only 9 made the list, which uses a supposedly improved methodology that puts less weight on reputation and more on more measurable harder facts. A bunch got dropped and a couple of new names entered the top 200 from Canada. The list:
  • U of Toronto - 17th place in the world - up from 29th!
  • UBC - 30th - up ten spots too from 40th!
  • McGill - 35th - down from 18th ;-(
  • McMaster - 93rd up fifty spots from 143rd!!
  • U of Alberta - 127th, down from 59th, ouch!
  • U of Victoria - 130th, from nowhere last year!!!
  • U of Montreal - 138th vs 107th
  • Dalhousie - 193rd, another new entrant
  • SFU - 199th, still hanging on after 196th placing last year
Those who fell right off the list into oblivion: Waterloo (2009 - 113th); Queen's (118th), Calgary (149th), Western (151st).

Those who are fond of knocking the USA or predicting its imminent fall may wish to consider that the new rankings indicate an overwhelming dominance by that country in higher education. It dominates in every way: owning the top 5 spots, 7 of the top 10, 27 of the top 50 and 72 of the top 200. That's 18 more in the top 200 than last year! One negative mentioned in this analysis article is that public universities like the U. of California system are suffering from government cutbacks as a result of the debt crisis. Rich private universities like world no.1 Harvard are merely less rich.

The UK has held its own with 29 spots in the top 200, the same as last year and it has the other three in the top ten.

Though Canada's position has fallen back relative to the best, I would not want to be a citizen of much larger countries than Canada that have fared very poorly in these rankings such as Japan with only 5 spots, France with 4, and Italy with not a single university among the top 200. In the national "medals table" (see here) Canada is 5th after the USA, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.

Amongst countries of the emerging world, China is already in the top class - including Hong Kong and Mainland China together, it would be tied at 10 spots with the Netherlands. The other members of the BRIC - Brazil, Russia and India - do not have a single top 200 university, though the Times editors feel India is on track to muscle into it soon, while Russia is in decline. It is an interesting thought relative to investment prospects for these countries given the key role universities play in economic development.

There is competition not just amongst universities, but between rankings too. After a combined effort in 2009 (the one which is used above to compare), QS and Times have split. The QS 2010 Rankings paint a slightly different overall picture, though Canada has also fallen back in this set of rankings. There is one less top 200 spot - SFU has slipped down to 216th and all but one (U of T) have slipped lower. In QS' results, the number one spot is held by Cambridge, the UK has 4 of the top ten, the US has fewer overall in the top 200, only 53 total, which is down one from last year.

The QS rankings are interesting in that they go right down to the top 500. Being down there is not so shabby, even for bottom-feeders like Carleton, Concordia and U du Québec considering that there are said to be more than 17,000 universities around the world.

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