Queen’s rep gets gut check

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Queen’s recently received its poorest ranking ever from the Quacquarelli Symonds’ (QS) World University Rankings. While not a cause for panic, this new low is representative of a general downward trend in international reputation that the school administration is reluctant to acknowledge.

Queen’s standing in the QS rankings has fallen consistently over time and also recently dropped in the Times Higher Education assessment. The fact that multiple rating systems have Queen’s placing worse year after year isn’t a coincidence.

Those who are critical of international ranking systems insist they are mostly meaningless and based on faulty criteria. Predictably, Vice-Provost (International) Jim Lee played down this most recent report, saying that the “reputation” criteria was determined by individual academics who were asked to list what they believed to be the top universities.

It’s curious that the current administration would be so glib about Queen’s declining reputation, as it doesn’t bode well in relation to its larger plans for internationalization. Queen’s isn’t an incredibly well-known school internationally. As such, being able to fall back on a good general reputation in international surveys would be ideal. For better or for worse, university applicants often look at international rankings to get a vague picture of how much a degree from a specific institution is worth.

For the time being, Queen’s will maintain its reputation within Canada as a top-tier university. However, this fact, coupled with a fairly insular campus culture, can often lead to complacency about our state of affairs. Needless to say, Queen’s can’t afford to be complacent during a period of globalization and competition.

International rankings will continue to come out and Queen’s will probably continue to decline in standing. The administration will undoubtedly remain guarded about the topic, but this defensiveness won’t help raise our profile.

International rankings are not a catch-all for what makes a university great. Queen’s students are still right to think fairly highly of their university. However, the fact that our administration doesn’t acknowledge the decline isn’t a good sign. Projected complacency, insularity and a falling reputation don’t make a good combination.

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