Universities make more information available

Ontario institutions set up data-collecting websites to replace Maclean’s survey

Principal Karen Hitchcock, pictured here on Oct. 5 at the Gordon Hall re-opening ceremony, said the University will continue to provide information to the public after opting out of the Maclean’s annual university survey.
Principal Karen Hitchcock, pictured here on Oct. 5 at the Gordon Hall re-opening ceremony, said the University will continue to provide information to the public after opting out of the Maclean’s annual university survey.
Credit: 
Wonjai Park

After opting out of the Maclean’s rankings this summer, the University will standardize information about its enrollment, class sizes and other variables for current and prospective students.

“We’re going to be participating with our sister institutions in what is currently known as a common data set,” Principal Hitchcock told the Journal. “Every institution has put up the data according to the same criteria.”

Queen’s was one of 22 universities to opt out of the Maclean’s annual university survey in August.
Hitchcock said the University will continue to offer a detailed source of information about Queen’s, and students can make their own judgments about the universities based on the information given.

“I think it’s a much more useful thing for students than an artificial ranking that says you average across totally different things,” she said. An open letter to Maclean’s from several universities, including Queen’s, stated that one of the complaints against the survey was its ranking system made arbitrary comparisons between institutions. Hitchcock said it’s important that Queen’s shares information that’s meaningful and provides fair comparisons. Hitchcock said Queen’s will have an
expanded public accountability site. “I want to emphasize this is a continuation if what we’ve been doing. We’re not suddenly doing all this because we’re no longer in Maclean’s.”

Andrew Simpson, vice-principal (operations and finance), said the University is trying to provide more information and commentary on major initiatives, rather than just financial reporting.

“Our concern about the Maclean’s survey was more to do with the weightings on the data and how they were used for ranking purposes rather than compilation of data,” he said. “Our focus will be in making sure information is available in a form that’s accessible, readable and understandable, allowing students to make decisions.” Simpson added that the range of data which will be offered on the website is similar to that which was provided to Maclean’s in previous years, but it will be more objective.

“What will be absent will be any bias of weighting that’s applied to it in ranking, which we believe is a very difficult and subjective thing to do.”

Barbara Hauser, secretary to council and senior policy advisor of the Council of Ontario Universities said the council has created a committee—the Taskforce on Quality Measurements—that will develop a
common data set for all 18 universities who belong to the council.

“They’re looking at what would be a feasible way of giving good information to students in a comparable format,” Hauser said.

The data set will look at common variables between universities such as student enrollment, entering averages, number of students living on campus and other variables, she said.

“The working name is the ‘common data set,’ which is exactly what it means. What are some common variables across institutions?” Hauser said the council hopes to have the website operating by the end of this year. One of the schools involved in the common data set is the University of Western Ontario.
David Estok, associate vice-principal of communications and public affairs at Western Ontario, said it has posted information on its website in a section called “Public Accountability.”

“There’s a ton of information there,” he said. “We used to make [this information] public to Maclean’s. Now we’re making it public to everybody.” Lindsay Sample, ArtSci ’10, said she doesn’t think the website will be as effective as the Maclean’s survey in attracting prospective students.

“Parents won’t know about this and will buy the magazine,” she said, adding that if the University won’t be supplying information to Maclean’s, it should be posted somewhere. Emily Gray, ArtSci ’10, said that because Queen’s has been ranked so high in many categories, the rankings help the University
attract students. “If you’re choosing between schools, it has an effect,” she said. “People are so
accustomed to Maclean’s. It might be hard to get prospective students to look at the website.”

—With files from Gillian Wheatley

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