Queen's fails to make the cut

University falls out of Times Higher Education top 200 international university ranking

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Queen’s didn’t make the cut in a recent ranking of the top 200 universities in the world.

The Times High Education released their 2012-13 World University Rankings on Oct. 3, with all Canadian schools dropping in ranking with the exception of the University of Ottawa and University de Montreal.

The rankings project the top global universities based on a wide variety of criteria.

“I think the administration views it with interest just like any of these ranking surveys that go on,” Deputy Provost Susan Cole said.

Cole added that she thinks the rise in ranking of Asian and Australian institutions is a contributing factor to the drop.

“First of all, it’s just a snapshot,” she said. “So watching trends rather than reacting to a single year is really key.”

Queen’s is now positioned in the 201 to 225 section of the rankings. The ranking doesn’t show where universities ranked above 200 are specifically placed. The University of Toronto remains Canada’s top university in the ranking, but slipped out of the top 20 from 19th to 21st.

Cole said a common concern with the rankings is the lack of transparency with their methodology.

“Frankly, I’m thinking if this is an academic exercise it should be transparent,” she said. “We should take care not to overinterpret anything that’s come out of it.”

In 2010, Queen’s opted out of appearing on the list, citing methodology concerns, but agreed to participate again in 2011.

Cole said she doesn’t think the ranking will affect Queen’s international reputation.

“The changes that occurred for Canadian universities are so small that going up or down, those numbers mean nothing at all,” said James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

Turk, said in the Times ranking, teaching or learning environment, research and the number of times papers are cited each count for 30 per cent of the overall standing. The number of international students and staff make up 7.5 per cent and the income from industry equals 2.5 per cent.

Turk said he finds the data to be too “soft” to make any sort of quantitative data or concrete conclusion. “Universities are complex institutions,” he said. “And to pretend you can reduce all that complexity to a number that would allow you to compare Queen’s to Western [University] is ridiculous.”

Times Higher Education also sends out a ‘reputation survey’ to about 18,000 people to help determine these percentages, and they look at student-to-staff ratio as an indicator of quality.

Turk raised concerns about the validity of the survey given that there are simple “accounting tricks” that universities can employ to make their student-to-teacher ratio seem better. For example, some universities implement different sections for one course and count the teaching assistants running the seminars for each section as the professors of the course, thereby boosting their ratios.

The ranking also looks at the amount of PhD students the university turns out.

“Everybody likes simplicity,” Turk said. “But universities can’t be reduced to those kinds of simple comparisons.”

— With files from Vincent Matak

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