Every November for the past nine years, Maclean's magazine has published a "ranking" of Canadian universities. Naturally, the results are celebrated by those institutions rated highly, but they have caused consternation and distress among many others.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you read the Maclean's rankings this year:
Our financial situation is improving,but so are conditions in other provinces and other universities. Now that the federal government has a surplus and the Quebec government has a balanced budget in sight, the drastic cuts to higher education appear to have ended, although the funding levels of five or six years ago have not been restored. For comparison, here are the per cent increases in provincial government funding to the university sector in the other provinces. (Source: AUCC)
|New Brunswick -2.4% -1.0% 2.3%
||Quebec||-7.1%||-4.5%||1.0% ||Ontario||0.0%||4.2%||1.9%||Manitoba||-2.5%||4.3%||2.0% ||Saskatchewan||0.0%||5.0%||5.0% ||Alberta||1.8%||1.0%||2.0% ||British Columbia||0.0%||1.9%||2.6% |
The impact on our Maclean's results for 1999 is that universities in other provinces will be reporting improvements in the financial categories of the survey that will definitely surpass our own improvements.
Concordia? Never heard of it. The Maclean's presentation itself is questionable. The rankings for the questions on the questionnaire are weighted, and these values are not always apparent. One has to read between the lines to assess the impact of each category. One question called "Reputational Survey" is given a significant 15 per cent of the points used for the rankings. How is "reputation" surveyed? A letter is sent to more than 4,000 high-school/CEGEP guidance counsellors, university vice-presidents, deans, registrars and business people across Canada to ask them which universities they prefer. The university respondents naturally choose their own institution and one or two others they're familiar with; the others name the universities they know something about. It's not hard to see how Concordia, with its strong local base in Montreal, would fare on that question.
Most students stay in the neighbourhood. The rankings imply an element of competition between institutions that is largely unwarranted. Most Canadian universities draw heavily on students from their own geographical area. Concordia does not really compete with the other universities in its Maclean's category of "comprehensives." Do CEGEP students who live in the West Island, Montreal North or on the South Shore really weigh up whether they should go to Concordia or to Simon Fraser University? For example, approximately 64 per cent of first-year students at Concordia in 1998-99 applied from Montreal-area CEGEPs.
Top-notch programs are undervalued. Where competition for recruitment really exists, the Maclean's rankings do not value it sufficiently. Some entering students do know what they want to study, and go shopping across Canada for the best program. Concordia has some of those programs, such as Communication Studies, Exercise Science, Accountancy, Computer Engineering and Film Production, to name a few. Overall, of the 549 new out-of-province students at Concordia in 1998-99, about 60 per cent were studying in programs that have competitive admission policies through a minumum entering average and/or an interview, letter of intent, performance or portfolio assessment. We were 4th out of 12 in terms of out-of-province students, but Maclean's gave us no opportunity to show that it was mainly because of specific programs, and we obtain minimal credit for this in the overall rankings, as this ranking only carries a weight of 1 per cent.
This is not a football league. Even in the Maclean's rankings, there is little variation between the institutions. Cameron Tilson (Rector's Office), who collated and submitted Concordia's data to Maclean's, points out that "rankings are not like wins and losses for football teams." He added up the points Maclean's allotted (but did not publish) for the last four universities in our category last year, and found that they came to 39.533, 38.355, 37.983 and 37.176. Yet these were ranked 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th, giving a few highly questionable points unnecessary weight in the casual reader's mind. In fact, the proportion of students from other provinces studying at Concordia has remained stable despite the differential tuition fees imposed by Quebec. This suggests that students are coming to Concordia because of our programs, not merely for bargain tuition.
Concordia has never done especially well in Maclean's, and finished 12th out of 12 in its category last year. This year, a working group was assembled months in advance to examine the Maclean's questionnaire and our own data more closely than ever, and to try to maximize our own contribution to this year's survey.
The group included representatives from the Rector's Cabinet, Institutional Research, Information and Instructional Technology Services, Financial Services, the Office of Research Services, the Office of the Registrar, Advancement, Libraries and Public Relations.
Partly as a result of their work, and partly because of improving conditions at Concordia, the data submitted this year are more encouraging. When the rankings are published next week, we might see an improvement in Concordia's status. However, keep in mind that every university at the lower end of the rankings is also trying to improve its position.
The committee found that Concordia showed significant improvement in four areas:
1. We're getting more good students.Maclean's counts the number of students entering university with an average of 75 per cent or higher. Although the overall average for all our applicants remained the same as in the 1998 Maclean's submission (76 per cent), we are attracting a significantly greater proportion of high-ranking students. In fact, the proportion of students entering with at least 75 per cent of greater has increased from 54.1 per cent in 1998 to 69.3 in 1999.
2. We are enhancing our research profile. This year, thanks to a process of self-reporting by the Faculty of Fine Arts, we are able, for the first time, to report grants to fine arts projects made through the Canada Council. This will add $153,000 to our total of research dollars reported in the Maclean's category "Social Sciences and Humanities Grants." Last year, Concordia ranked 7th out of 12 in this category. With this year's figures and those submitted by other universities last year, we would have ranked third in this category.
In addition, we have increased the amounts reported in the category "Medical/Science Grants," largely through capturing the amounts received through "inter-institutional" awards (i.e., research grants held by other universities but in which Concordia is a partner). Last year, we ranked 8th out of 12; with this year's figures, Concordia would rank 7th.
3. We are offering more scholarships and bursaries. Our expenditures in this category have increased from 1.31 per cent of our operating expenditures in 1997-98 to 4.77 per cent in 1998-99. This represents a 264 per cent increase!
4. More of our students are graduating.
The graduation rate for full-time students has improved from 64.3
per cent of students in 1998 to 68.9 per cent in 1999.