Maclean's has spent 20 years gathering the best numerical data to compare the quality of Canadian schools. It isn't easy. Here's how we do it.
Maclean’s places universities in one of three categories, recognizing the differences in types of institutions, levels of research funding, the diversity of offerings, and the range of graduate and professional programs. Primarily Undergraduate universities are largely focused on undergraduate education, with relatively few graduate programs. Those in the Comprehensive category have a significant degree of research activity and a wide range of programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including professional degrees. Medical Doctoral universities offer a broad range of Ph.D. programs and research; as well, all universities in this category have medical schools, which sets them apart in terms of the size of research grants.
In each category, Maclean’s ranks the institutions on performance indicators in six broad areas, allocating a weight to each indicator. Primarily Undergraduate and Comprehensive universities are ranked on 13 performance measures; Medical Doctoral universities are ranked on 14. Figures include data from all federated and affiliated institutions. The magazine
does not rank schools with fewer than 1,000 full-time students, those that are restrictive due to a religious or specialized mission, newly designated universities or those that are not members of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC).
The rankings are based on the most recent and publicly available data. Statistics Canada provides student and faculty numbers, as well as data for total research income and all five financial indicators: operating budget, spending on student services, scholarships and bursaries, library expenses and acquisitions. Financial figures are for fiscal year 2008-2009; student and faculty numbers are for 2008. Data for the social sciences and humanities research grants indicator and the medical/science research grants indicator are for fiscal year 2009-2010 and obtained directly from the three major federal granting agencies: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The Canadian Association of Research Libraries provides figures used for the library holdings indicators; the numbers used for this year’s calculations are for 2008. In addition, Maclean’s collects information on dozens of student and faculty awards from 46 administering agencies, and sends more than 11,000 reputational surveys to university officials at each ranked institution, high school principals and guidance counsellors, CEOs, recruiters and the heads of a wide variety of national and regional organizations.
Maclean’s weights the rankings as follows:
STUDENTS & CLASSES (20 per cent of final score) Maclean’s collects data on the success of the student body at winning national academic awards (weighted 10 per cent) over the previous five years. The list covers 40 fellowship and prize programs, encompassing more than 18,000 individual awards from 2005 through 2009. The count includes such prestigious awards as the Rhodes scholarships and the Fulbright awards, as well as scholarships from professional associations and the three federal granting agencies. Each university’s total of student awards is divided by its number of full-time students, yielding a count of awards relative to each institution’s size.
To gauge students’ access to professors, Maclean’s also measures the number of full-time-equivalent students per full-time faculty member (10 per cent). This student-faculty ratio includes all students, graduate as well as undergraduate.
FACULTY (20 per cent) In assessing the calibre of faculty, Maclean’s calculates the number who have won major national awards over the past five years, including the distinguished Killam, Molson and Steacie prizes, the Royal Society of Canada awards, the 3M Teaching Fellowships and nearly 40 other award programs covering a total of 848 individual awards (eight per cent). To scale for institution size, the award count for each university is divided by each school’s number of full-time faculty.
In addition, the magazine measures the success of faculty in securing research grants from SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR. Maclean’s takes into account both the number and the dollar value received in the previous year, and divides the totals by each institution’s full-time faculty count. Research grants are reported by how many are awarded to the primary investigator on a project. Social sciences and humanities grants (six per cent) and medical/science grants (six per cent) are tallied as separate indicators.
RESOURCES (12 per cent) This section examines the amount of money available for current expenses per weighted full-time-equivalent student (six per cent). Students are weighted according to their level of study—bachelor, master’s or doctorate—and their program of study.
To broaden the scope of the research picture, Maclean’s also measures total research dollars (six per cent). This figure, calculated relative to the size of each institution’s full-time faculty, includes income from sponsored research, such as grants and contracts, federal, provincial and foreign government funding, and funding from non-governmental organizations.
STUDENT SUPPORT (13 per cent) To evaluate the assistance available to students, Maclean’s examines the percentage of the budget spent on student services (6.5 per cent) as well as scholarships and bursaries (6.5 per cent). Expenditures are measured as they are reported to the Canadian Association of University Business Officers.
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