Skip to main content

Eleven of Canada's universities are refusing to participate in the Maclean's university ranking issue, saying they find the magazine's survey methodology to be "oversimplified" and "arbitrary."

In a letter sent yesterday to Maclean's, the coalition said they will not provide any data to the magazine for its popular, yet controversial, annual fall survey of universities. The letter was signed by the presidents of the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, the University of Lethbridge, the University of Manitoba, the University of Toronto, McMaster University, the University of Ottawa, the University of Montreal and Dalhousie University.

"In various ways and for some years, many institutional spokespersons have expressed considerable reservations about the methodology used in the Maclean's university survey and the validity of some of the measures used," the presidents wrote.

"Thus far, these serious concerns have gone largely unaddressed, and there is still no evidence that Maclean's intends to respond to them."

The Maclean's university ranking, a competitor to The Globe and Mail's University Report Card, has been the subject of much debate. Universities have objected to being scored and ranked. The letter will no doubt lead to other schools pulling out in the next few weeks, university officials say.

The move comes on the heels of a number of institutions boycotting the magazine's recent graduate survey, which looked at alumni satisfaction with their university experience. For those universities that objected to the survey, Maclean's used data from other sources.

Tony Keller, managing editor of special projects at Maclean's, said the 16th annual ranking survey will continue in its current form regardless of whether institutions willingly participate. The magazine will compile data from other sources or through access-to-information requests, he said. "We're not going to exclude anybody, we're not going to punish anybody, we're not going to tilt our coverage in any way for or against anybody. This data is all publicly available so we'll be continuing to use the publicly available and third-party data to publish the ranking," Mr. Keller said in an interview.

The universities' main concern is that Maclean's rankings aggregate data by arbitrarily assigning weights to separate variables. They object to Maclean's collecting data on a wide range of things, such as class size, library and reputation, and then arbitrarily assigning weightings to generate a single ranking number.

Peter George, president of McMaster University, said rankings may sell magazines, but they do not provide information to students about their particular programs or university life in general.

"In our view, this is not an attempt to deep-six Maclean's. We have offered genuinely to work with them to improve their survey," he said in an interview.

Indira Samarasekera, president of the University of Alberta, said she does not object to rankings, but rather is "against the rankings that don't have academic or intellectual merit." The universities intend to publish data on their websites that will allow for valid comparisons, she said.

"We felt that if they [Maclean's]were not using the data in a way that we considered rigorous, given that we are academic institutions that are committed to accuracy, transparency and quality, we really couldn't justify public institutions spending taxpayer dollars to support the exercise," Dr. Samarasekera said in an interview.

Mr. Keller, however, said the methodology used by Maclean's is fair. The magazine provides transparency by breaking down the overall rankings into different categories, he said.

"Based on 16 years of experience of doing this at Maclean's, based on extensive consultation with the universities and with experts in the field, we came up with a ranking of all the elements that make up quality in a university," he said.