Rankling Rankings

  • Graphic Vivien Leung

Maclean’s has, yet again, ranked Concordia as one of Canada’s worst universities.

And while it might make framing that Concordia University diploma a little less appealing, I personally don’t take it too seriously. With a ranking system that’s about as scientific as a Fox News poll, Maclean’s should probably re-evaluate its scaling methodology.

I would even go a step further and say that Canadian students—especially those straight out of high school deciding where to apply in the coming months—need to ignore the rankings all together.

As a magazine that is partially responsible for creating the reputation it’s measuring, Maclean’s should reconsider devoting a whopping 20 per cent of its overall score to that category. It’s no coincidence that schools Maclean’s rates poorly for national recognition often stay that way.

Some factors that provide very tangible benefits to students are largely overlooked by the ranking system, like class size.

Smaller classes offer more face time with the teacher and better interaction in the classroom instead of observing a droning lecture in an auditorium. Approximately 40 per cent of Concordia’s undergraduate classes count fewer than 30 people. Just saying. Nevertheless, Maclean’s gives student-to-teacher ratio only 10 per cent of the overall score.

Concordia’s business school, the John Molson School of Business, boasts a reputation as one of the best in Canada, and the university’s communications, social science, journalism and fine arts programs are also exceptional. Concordia’s unique multi-disciplinary studies—like the option of a double-major in computer science and computation arts—set us apart from the schools consistently making the top five.

Maclean’s could find a better way to evaluate schools—say, in a way that didn’t hurt schools with less funding. After all, McGill is the only Quebec university with an endowment large enough to make the top of the list.

The magazine could consider a school’s diversity or course variety. It could find a relatively objective way to factor in the number of innovative features a particular school offers. But even if it were willing, it wouldn’t really make a difference.

That’s because measuring all Canadian schools using the same criteria doesn’t make sense. No university will ever accommodate every type of student and they shouldn’t try to. It’s why we have different schools in the first place. All-encompassing rankings like these will always favour certain strengths that only benefit specific students.

Every year that Maclean’s assigns a numerical value to our universities, they perpetuate the nonsense that a “best” school exists. McGill might have a bigger library, worth 15 per cent of the score, but our many night classes cater more to students with full-time jobs. Simon Fraser University might have a more notable faculty, but our student residence has fewer bed bugs.

Although Maclean’s might say that it can tell you where to apply, it’s probably time we stopped listening.

—Julia Wolfe,
Layout Manager

This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 14, published November 16, 2010.

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