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Canadian universities, led by the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia and McGill, have moved up in an influential ranking of the world’s top schools.

Seven Canadian institutions were ranked among the top 200 in the world by the Times Higher Education magazine, considered by many the most prestigious of the university rankings.

The University of Toronto was ranked 18th, up three places from a year ago. UBC was ranked 34th, up three places, and McGill placed 42nd, up from 44th a year ago. McMaster and Montreal both moved up five places, to 72nd and 85th, respectively. Alberta was ranked 136th and the University of Ottawa jumped 35 places to 141st.

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Two Canadian schools, the University of Calgary and Western University, slipped out the top 200 this year.

As in previous years, the rankings were led by British and American schools. Oxford came top for the fourth consecutive year, although CalTech nudged ahead of Cambridge for second place this time around. They were followed in the top 10 by Stanford and a number of U.S. Ivy League colleges, including Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

Top 5 ranking and Canadian universities, 2019 vs. 2020

CountryInstitution2019 ranking2020 ranking
BritainUniversity of Oxford11
U.S.California Institute of Technology52
BritainUniversity of Cambridge23
U.S.Stanford University34
U.S.Massachusetts Institute of Technology45
CanadaUniversity of Toronto2118
CanadaUniversity of British Columbia3734
CanadaMcGill University4442
CanadaMcMaster University7772
CanadaUniversity of Montreal9085
CanadaUniversity of Alberta132136
CanadaUniversity of Ottawa176141

SOURCE: TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION

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The University of Toronto maintained its position as Canada’s leading research university. Meric Gertler, president of the university, said moving up three spots into the top 20 is a significant move. It reflects the university’s strong reputation for research and teaching and the increasing levels of research funding directed to the university’s staff.

Mr. Gertler said a high ranking is something that’s noticed throughout the world. He noted that the University of Toronto was ranked third among North American public universities.

“The market for student recruitment is increasingly a global market, and faculty recruitment is increasingly global. … They look at these numbers, these results, and they take notice. If they think that you’re an institution that has a wind in your sails, it might just help to sell,” Mr. Gertler said.

“I’m always struck by how parents of prospective students, and the prospective students themselves, really look at the rankings. They know our rankings in some cases better than we do. So it does seem to have an effect.”

Mr. Gertler, who is also the chair of the U15 group of Canadian research universities, said there was both good and bad news for the broader Canadian university sector in the rankings. Most Canadian universities in the top 200 improved their positions, but two schools did slip outside the top 200. Australia, by comparison, with a smaller population, has 11 universities ranked in the top 200.

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“You can’t rest on our laurels,” Mr. Gertler said. “It was great to get a boost in federal research funding in the 2018 budget. And I know some of that might actually be filtering through down in a way that shows up in the rankings. But it can’t be a one-time only investment. That’s certainly the lesson that you can learn by looking at other countries.”

Michelle Stack, a UBC professor who has studied university rankings, said they tend to reflect the wealth of the institutions they try to assess. The top schools are often private American schools with massive endowments. They don’t reflect the quality of education that a student will receive at a given university, she said.

“My concern with rankings is so much of the focus becomes on reputation rather than what’s actually happening in a university,” Prof. Stack said.

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