Canada's falling university rankings show world is catching up: former dean
Josh Elliott, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, October 2, 2014 6:10PM EDT
Universities in east Asia are focusing more on education and closing the gap with Canada in the latest global university rankings, a former Canadian university dean says.
But the Times Higher Education rankings also put too much emphasis on reputation, according to Ken Coates, a former university dean and author of the book 'What to Consider if You're Considering University.'
The 2014-15 Times Higher Education rankings listed only eight Canadian universities among the world's top 200 this week, and only one Canadian university among the top 20. The University of Toronto held its spot from last year at 20th position, while six other Canadian institutions fell down the rankings and only one jumped up into the top 200.
"The gap between the top 200 is relatively small," Coates told CTV News Channel via Skype from Fort McMurray, Alta. on Thursday. He added that Canadian universities are not on the decline, but are simply losing their lead over other countries. "I think we make too much of this," he said.
Coates says about one-third of the THE scoring system is based on reputation. The rest of the THE system evaluates schools based on their patents, innovations, published scholarly articles and number of companies developed on-campus.
"This process of rankings is actually very misleading, because it doesn't tell you very much about the experience as a student at these top-ranked institutions," Coates said. He added that THE ranks schools based on which are the best-known, not which are the best in quality.
Coates, a former Dean of Arts at the University of Waterloo, says he used to get an annual survey from THE asking him to rank schools based on what he thought of them. Those rankings are sent to many university officials to help determine THE's annual rankings, he said. "It's an extremely subjective exercise," said Coates, who now works as a professor at the University of Saskatchewan.
Coates said Canadian universities slipped this year because China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea are dedicating more government money to improving their universities. That's changed from about 15 years ago, when North America and western Europe used to dominate the list, he said. "Now, it really is a global ranking."
Two of the most-improved universities this year are based in Asia. Singapore's Nanyang Technological University bounded up the rankings, going from 76th last year to 61 this year. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology also showed a dramatic jump, climbing six spots to 51st on the list.
Still, the top 20 spots on the list remain dominated by western-based universities. Fifteen of the universities are in the United States, three are in the United Kingdom and Switzerland and Canada have one each to round out the top 20. Their individual rankings changed a little when compared to last year, but no school dropped out of the top 20.
Only the University of Victoria managed to improve its stock over last year, leaping up from outside the top 200 to snag 173 on this year's list. Six other Canadian universities fell down the standings, with the University of Alberta dropping the most. It tumbled from a tie for 109th spot down to 124th position this year.
Coates said that while the rankings put a lot of stock in reputation, they also indicate Canada is losing ground internationally. "Our universities are, in fact, slipping on a global scale," he said.