Rankings miss the point

Canadian Universities Forum (discussion group)

Subject: Rankings miss the point
Rankings miss the point
Judging universities based on how well their students perform academically is unfair to universities that accept students outside the top of their class

The Gazette

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Quebec universities are walking a perilous tight-rope.

For weeks now, McGill, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Sherbrooke and Laval have been proclaiming themselves best in their class, citing rankings by Maclean´s magazine, the London Times and assorted research institutes to demonstrate how wonderful their professors are, how smart their students and how much money they´ve secured from grants, corporate sponsors and alumni.

There´s a method to this who´s-first madness. It´s autumn, when CEGEP students in Quebec and high school graduates elsewhere are making critical decisions on where to send their admission applications.

Last week, Montreal International joined the chorus, saluting the "outstanding performance" of Montreal´s universities in attracting $1.1 billion in research dollars in 2004, just short of 25 per cent of the total for Canada.

So long as everybody sees these studies for what they are - marketing tools. "Facts are stubborn things," Mark Twain said, "but statistics are more pliable."

The Maclean´s survey is comprehensive, measuring endowments, PhDs on faculty, library holdings and class size.

But it also weighs factors such as the average grades of incoming students and how many complete their studies within a year of their normal graduate date.

Such criteria inevitably give the edge to McGill and U de M over Concordia University and Universite du Quebec a Montreal, schools known to accept promising students whose entrance grades may not be extraordinary. They also have a large enrolment of part-time students, people trying to earn a degree while working full time or raising a family.

Besides, if everything is splendid in the groves of academe, why are our universities - particularly those with medical and doctoral programs - so eager to endorse doom-and-gloom predictions put forward by Bob Rae?

According to the former New Democratic premier of Ontario, universities across the country have been (and still are) neglected by Ottawa and the provinces.

During an intimate lunch at

U de M this week with Quebec university rectors, business leaders and Education Minister Jean-Marc Fournier, Rae said a radical overhaul in government funding, financial aid and tuition is needed if Canada stands a chance of keeping pace.

And not only with the Harvards, Oxfords and Sorbonnes of this world, either. We´re even trailing the better state schools in the United States. China and India, too, are pouring big money into universities.

"Nobody sets out to win the bronze. We shouldn´t be satisfied with being third rate," Rae said.

Rae hit a nerve last winter when he tabled a report urging Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to revamp student loans, pump billions into graduate programs, and lean on Ottawa to ante up more through transfer payments.

Now he´s calling on Quebec to do the same.

Rae championed the recent manifesto by Quebec business leaders, including former premier Lucien Bouchard, which pleaded for bold solutions to key problems.

"We can´t have sacred cows or taboos, things that we can´t talk about," he said.

At a time when 70 per cent of new jobs demand a post-

secondary education, investing in universities "is not a luxury."

Out of necessity, governments have focused on the health sector. But with Canada increasingly dependent on knowledge-based industries, rethinking education policy is vital to our economic well-being and the prospects of future generations.

That means making sure everyone who ought to go to college gets there, regardless of their financial situation. And Rae breaks with traditional left-of-centre positions by endorsing tuition hikes.

"We have to get beyond the false notion that reduced fees means increased access," he said. "Those who have the least and who don´t get to go to universities end up subsidizing those that do."

Are we sure we really want to be talking about rankings?


? The Gazette (Montreal) 2005

(in reply to: Rankings miss the point)
I agree, our schools deserve more money.
(in reply to: Rankings miss the point)
It´s too easy to get into university in Quebec.
(in reply to: Rankings miss the point)

It´s too easy to get into the University of Quebec.


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