What Do World Rankings Mean?

When choosing a university to attend in Canada, or anywhere else in the world, students want to study at a top ranked university or college.  Although it is important to study where you know that you will get the best education and have a degree that is worthwhile; one must not get too hung up on ranks.  It is first important to know the criteria on which a ranking is determined.

Canada has four universities that stand in the top 100 world rankings, depending on which ranking system you view; University of Toronto, McGill University, University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta.  Yet among OECD countries, Canada stands fourth in how much of their GDP they spend on education.  Canada is considered to have one of the best education systems in the world, even outranking the US on some points.  Could it be that rankings are not all that they are made out to be?

So what do the rankings mean?  You will want to know if you are planning on studying abroad in Canada or elsewhere.

There are two main ranking systems that students look to for guidance as to which university they want to attend;

  • Times Higher Education (THE)
  • Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)

Each one of these systems uses different criteria to determine a university’s standing.

Times Higher Education (THE)

These scores are someone subjective because the ranking is partially based on reputation; what are students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments saying about the university.  The criteria used are:

Teaching – the learning environment makes up 30% of the overall ranking score.  Institutions that have a high percentage of undergraduates as opposed to graduates don’t score well.  In other words, the higher ratio of graduates is, the higher the rank.

Research – the amount of research, the income (due to grants and research funds, etc.) and reputation as a research institute are important factors in a university’s rank.

Citations – this refers to yearly publications; a university needs to publish a minimum of 200 papers per year to get any sort of score in this area.

Industry income – how much industry or revenue is generated as a result of the research?  Many universities have their spin-off companies that have evolved out of the research conducted at the university.

International outlook – Internationalisation aspects of national vs. International student rations; international instructors, collaborative research and agreements between universities makes up 7.5% of the score.  (Internationalisation is increased at a university where there is a strong graduate studies and research focus.)

A close examination of the above criteria shows that a university that focuses on graduates studies and research are the real leading factors in determining a university’s ranking on this scale.  If you are a graduate student looking for a good university, using THE might be worth your while, but for the undergraduate; while you want to study at a reputable educational institution, using THE rankings might not give you the best selection as to where to study.

Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)

Their ranking methodology is less subjective as they do not rely on reporting methods that might be highly askew if certain segments of the global population have an undue representation in the surveys.  ARWU relies heavily on statistics and facts.  Therefore their rankings might be considered more reliable; but again there is a heavy emphasises on research and graduate work.

The criteria used here are:

Quality of Education:

  • Numbers of alumni who hold Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals
  • Academics at the university who win Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals

Quality of Faculty:

  • How many of the universities researchers are highly cited in 21 subject categories
  • The number of papers published in Nature and Science

Research Outlook:

  • Papers indexed in Science Citation and Social Science Indexes

Per Capita Performance:

  • Per capital academic performance of an institution

If you are interested in studying at the Graduate level, you do want to consider the research factor of the university; but for the most part, either ranking system should not totally govern your decision as to what university or college you will attend.  If you are an undergraduate there are other factors you want to consider; such as smaller classrooms or closer relationships with professors and teaching staff.

If you are an international student who wants to study in Canada, there are many smaller institutions where you can get a quality degree or you can transfer to a top ranking university after your first couple of years studying in Canada.  This would be more suitable, less expensive and still provide you with a solid education from a reputable institution.  If you are interested in studying in Canada, then contact your International Student Representative in Pakistan for more information and details so you can find the best place to study in Canada.

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