Canada’s university researchers are generating more scholarship than ever, but the productivity of some of their global peers is improving even faster, leading to declines in global rankings for many Canadian schools.
All but five of the 26 universities that appear in this year’s QS World University Rankings, released Wednesday, saw their research production decline relative to that of other institutions around the world, and 17 saw their overall placement drop as a result.
“The whole world is moving forward quickly on knowledge production, and everybody is very keen to reference everybody else. We are seeing a global trend toward more, more, more,” said Ben Sowter, the research director of QS. “Canadian universities are not going backwards, other countries are accelerating more quickly.”
The QS rankings measure performance on six indicators, with academic reputation counting for 40 per cent of the total score and scholarly citations and reputation with employers worth 20 per cent each. Student-faculty ratios and the percentage of international faculty and students are also considered.
The federal government recently boosted the country’s research ecosystem, investing $3.8-billion over the next five years in scientific research in response to evidence that Canadian investment was falling behind that of other countries.
It will be years before that money makes its way through the system, however.
“A researcher has to get the money, go out and publish, and then people have to cite it,” said Alex Usher, the president of Higher Education Strategy Associates, an education consulting and analysis firm.
Strong showings in areas other than research propelled two of Canada’s top universities to better overall placements this year, however. The University of Toronto moved from 31 to 28 on the strength of its reputation with employers, while the University of British Columbia went from 51 to 47, helped by a better score for international faculty.
McGill University moved from 32 last year to 33.
The universities of Alberta, Calgary, Waterloo and Queen’s were among those that saw their placements decline by 10 to 20 spots, while Dalhousie and the University of Ottawa remained stable at 279 and 289, respectively.
Globally, MIT, Stanford and Harvard occupy the top three spots, earning the same placements as last year.
The rankings reflect growing international collaboration among researchers and the dominance of English as the lingua franca of partnerships between scholars and institutions, with academics who publish their work in English more likely to be cited by others.
Russian scholars, for example, are increasingly publishing in English-language journals, Mr. Sowter said.
“English is a great advantage. In the big citation areas – the natural sciences, medicine, engineering – English is the primary driver of citation performance,” he said.
Overall, international research output has increased 12.1 per cent. Canadian scholars generated 7.3 per cent more publications and 13.2 per cent more citations, about 10 per cent less than the global average of citations per faculty member.
The overall rankings capture the quality of research, not just the volume, Mr. Sowter said.
“If your research is not very good, you may get your brother or your cousin to cite it. But the stuff that gets cited at a statistically significant level is research that people want to reference, want to build off and want to feed into theirs,” he said.