Props from Maclean’s
by Jeanette Stewart
The annual Maclean’s survey of Canadian universities was released last week, with the University of Regina coming out sixth in its respective category.
After moving up to seventh place in 2001, the university has remained relatively stable in their rankings for the past three years.
However, director of University Relations Barbara Pollock said “a very small variation could result in a ranking change between two universities. So while sixth place is better than seventh place, the statistical difference between them is insignificant.”
This statement is echoed by J. Keith Fortowsky from Resource Planning, who said, “When you have a difference of, say, point one percent, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one institution is better than another.”
The survey has always been received with mixed feelings among the university community and, although Maclean’s works in conjunction with the university to compile the numbers, it is often felt their categories do not accurately represent the individuality of each university in Canada, nor do they highlight the specific strengths and weaknesses of each institution.
What the Maclean’s survey attempts to do is rank the universities in terms of class size, faculty, finances, library resources, reputation and characteristics of the student body, as well as the reputation of the university.
The U of R is placed in a comprehensive category, which includes those universities that have a significant amount of research activity, a wide range of programs both at the undergraduate and graduate level, as well as professional degree programs.
The magazine hopes their evaluation will represent the quality of the institutions, and allow people to evaluate the institutions objectively. However, Leah Sharpe, URSU vice president of external affairs said, “What this does is create a lot of pressure on the universities to mold themselves to what these magazines want.”
University President David Barnard said, “I think that what Maclean’s does sort of under-represents the complexity of the university world in Canada. It suggests that every institution in the system can be placed in this kind of ‘flat ranking,’ and assumes that there is kind of one dimension to all the universities.”
Many feel that, in the past, the Maclean’s survey has failed in capturing the university experience from a student perspective. The magazine has attempted to counter that response this year with a survey done by students.
Regina comes out with 51 per cent of students ranking their entire educational experience as “very good,” which is quite low when compared to all the other universities. However, as Fortowsky said, “every university in Canada has a 90 per cent satisfaction rate.”
What Maclean’s has done is asked students to “distinguish between very good and good. Frankly if any student was to do that for a class project, they’d be failed.”
“When we look at that ranking ... all the universities in the aggregate do quite well” said Barnard. “I think everyone is going to be looking at it and asking what it means.”
When it comes down to it, the discrepancy between “good” and “very good” is so marginal that the entire survey appears to be entirely subjective.
When it comes to student opinion towards the survey, it seems that the Maclean’s ranking holds little weight. Those already in the system are far less likely to consider the survey beneficial than are high school students contemplating which university they will enter. Arts student Jeff Knieval said that the Maclean’s survey had absolutely no influence on his decision to enter the U of R, but he said that he usually picks up the survey “just to see how we do.”
Sharpe said she hopes people entering university do not let this survey completely influence their decision, but rather that “what’s more important is that students look at the universities, look at the programs and talk to people in these programs and determine the value of an education based on those kinds of criteria. Buying the Maclean’s that says the U of R is number six ... will mean nothing once you get here.”
Most students like their university and are likely to support it, regardless of how it chalks up next to the other universities across Canada. Shawn Fraser, president of the Arts Students’ Association, is one.
“I don’t subscribe [to the survey]. If the Maclean’s survey told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?”