The Macleans University Rankings is a populist table charting student experience, post-study prospects, and overall reputation, published by one of Canada’s leading magazines. Since its inception its tabloid approach has fallen foul of some of Canada’s universities, with its contemporary and consumer-orientated approach readily apparent in its proud pronouncement: ‘available on newsstands and tablets’. The Macleans Ranking aims to provide focus on student satisfaction by comparing undergraduate offerings in three separate groupings: Primarily Undergraduate, Comprehensive, and Medical Doctoral.
The Macleans Rankings’ data set is compiled through a mixture of hard data and conjectural surveys. One of their most pronounced indicators, that of reputation, is gauged in consultation with high school principals, guidance counselors, industry experts, and education recruiters. This arguably restrictive methodology accounts for 16% of a university’s total ranking. Rather shallow indicators of quality, such as the 10% earmarked by the awarding of student prizes, and the 20% taken over by faculty who have won national awards, take much of the remainder of each score. The rest of Macleans methodology is equally as obsessed by surface quality: university resources are measured by the allocation of funds for each student and total research dollars. The combined approach, although yielding easily accessible results, paints an over-simplified picture of academic excellence.
So what does this tell Canadian students and students hoping to make Canada their undergraduate destination? If we listen to the critics, the advice would seem to be to look more closely at the true hallmarks of students success and experience; course by course offerings. One outspoken member of Macleans’ substantial opposition has drawn attention to the declining popularity and interest in Maclean’s University Rankings year on year, in the form of an easily rendered Google Trends graph. But for those still interested in the wider picture, the University of Waterloo was once again ranked Best Overall University in Canada and McGill, for the ninth year running, ranks number one in the Medical Doctoral category, followed closely by the University of British Columbia. But having consistently failed to provide any information or tables regarding each individual institution’s fields of study, departmental prestige, or individual majors, many universities with great sub-schools continue to be misplaced at the bottom of the table on account of an imbalance of departmental success.
In reality, the Macleans University Rankings is an annual feature of a widely read popular magazine, and an incentive to increase advertising revenue and sell copies. The 2015 Maclean’s University Rankings are not readily available online, and must be bought on newsstands for $9.95 or viewed online by subscribers. This national, inward-looking level of accessibility does little to attract international students, many of which have already been put off my an article in the wider magazine in 2010 that called the University of Toronto “Too Asian”. With a stubborn refusal to indulge in any quantitative analysis, Macleans Rankings merely subjects Canadian institutions to a basic formula that yields predictable results. Having no links to independent third party data, these university tables are more often than not seen as merely an advertising opportunity for the already-prestigious Canadian university elite.