McGill University has ranked among the world's top 20 schools for the fifth consecutive year in the latest QS World University Rankings, released Sunday.
The Montreal institution has consistently placed in the top 25 since the survey launched in 2004.
The ranking, which evaluates approximately 600 universities, placed McGill in the 17th slot, ahead of all other Canadian schools, including the University of Toronto, which came in at No. 23, and the University of British Columbia at No. 51.
The complete list of the QS World University Rankings.
McGill University principal and vice-chancellor Heather Munroe-Blum said the rankings help attract the brightest students and the most qualified professors in a highly competitive environment.
"They are important because people look at them and make decisions based on them," Ms. Munroe-Blum said. "I would say particularly outside North America where young people and their families ... often look at rankings before deciding where to go."
However, the rankings are often the subject of criticism, especially from institutions that rate poorly. Although the QS organization has been considered among the most important and stable in its field, it has not escaped controversy.
When it was created eight years ago, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a British company specializing in education, worked in partnership with London-based magazine Times Higher Education (THE) to launch the university ranking project. But in 2009, following criticism from universities, THE parted ways with QS over the methodology used to rank the institutions and branched out on its own.
THS partnered with Thomson Reuters to expand the amount of data in a bid to produce the most accurate international yardstick of university excellence. The split has given way to substantially different results in university rankings.
For instance, in 2010, QS ranked Cambridge University No. 1 over Harvard, Yale, University College London, MIT and Oxford. In the same year, THE ranked Harvard No. 1 and placed Cambridge sixth. THE was also much more generous with the University of Toronto, placing it at No. 17, well ahead of McGill, which ranked 35th.
It might explain why universities don't rely exclusively on any specific ranking to examine the status of their faculties, or their overall performances, to determine what needs to be improved and how their schools can continue to hold a position.
"As an institutional leader you look across rankings to see how you do," Ms. Munroe-Blum said. " What I look at and what my senior team looks at is: Do we do well across the board? Are we holding our position, moving forward or falling back?"
McGill University, she added, has recruited more than 1,000 new professors over the past decade, with the majority coming from outside of Canada.
"Being low in the rankings would not be good, it would not be helpful. I would call it a necessary but insufficient condition to be well placed in the rankings."
McGill and the University of Toronto were among a group of only four of the 14 Canadian universities in the top 300 that improved their performance over last year, with the University of Western Ontario rising to 157 and McMaster University to 159.
At 137, the Université de Montréal remained the highest-ranking French language university in the country.
The QS World University Rankings are based on six factors: academic reputation (40 per cent), employer reputation (10 per cent), student/faculty ratio (20 per cent), citations per faculty (20 per cent), international faculty (5 per cent), and international students (5 per cent).