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October 26, 2000 Maclean's rankings: Here they come again



We may see a rise in our ranking in this year’s Maclean’s magazine survey, thanks to improvements in the proportion of Concordia undergraduates who complete their studies, our social sciences, humanities and fine arts grants from the SSHRC and the Canada Council, and our level of alumni support.

Cameron Tilson works in the Rector’s Cabinet and directs the collection of data for the Maclean’s special issue. He has been tracking changes at Concordia in relation to last year’s submissions to Maclean’s by other institutions in our category, called by the magazine “comprehensive universities.”

“We have improved in 10 categories and decreased slightly in five,” he said. In the three categories named above, the magnitude of the improvement may be enough to increase our standings within the category relative to the other universities.

Maclean’s magazine publishes a special issue every fall in which universities and colleges across Canada are ranked on a variety of criteria. This year’s edition is expected to hit the newsstands on November 13.

The rankings have been sharply criticized by many institutions, and virtually all have expressed resentment at the amount of time and energy that must be devoted to compiling the data requested by the magazine.

Last year, Concordia improved its ranking from last out of 12 institutions in the “comprehensives” category to 10th out of 12. In fact, we were the only Quebec university to improve our ranking last year; the others descended in rank or stayed the same. However, every year since the Maclean’s survey began, we have been ranked at or very near last place.

“As in 1999, we have taken an aggressive approach,” Tilson said. “For example, in the calculation of an institutional ‘incoming average’ of CEGEP and high school applicants, worth 12 per cent of the total, the failed grades on applicants’ transcripts were omitted from the calculation. This is what is done by Ontario, and probably other provinces.

“Also, we included the substantial catalogued collections held by the Counselling and Development Careers Library (approximately 20,000 items) in our library data.

“On the other hand, the financial data that is submitted is compared by Maclean’s to the universities’ annual submissions to the Canadian Association of University Business Officers, so there is no flexibility in the financial categories. Also our faculty headcount is the same as that submitted annually to Statistics Canada. This is actually a good thing, as we are assured that there are some checks and balances in the system.”

Concordia has developed an Excel-based tool for predicting our overall ranking. It converts the values for each category to a points system, working a bit like sports standings.

“The only weakness in this is that we can only compare our current-year results with the previous year’s data from the other universities,” Tilson explained. “Also, we do not have access to the ‘reputational survey’ data, which is worth 15 per cent of the points used for the ranking.”

This part of the survey is based on responses to letters sent to 5,467 school guidance counsellors, university administrators and business people across Canada. Note that in 1999, the respnse rate to the reputational survey was only 13.5 per cent. Thus, a large proportion of the overall rankings is based on a survey with a relatively poor response rate.